December 2, 2015 – As we continue our tour of Universal Studios Japan, we’re going to focus this week’s column on the park’s Hollywood section, which includes Animation Celebration, Shrek 4-D Adventure, Space Fantasy – The Ride, Universal Monsters Live Rock And Roll Show and Hollywood Dream. As always, we’re also going to include a video tour below to give you another sense of what Hollywood has to offer from a different perspective. Be sure to give it a watch after you read this article, since it includes some unique elements from the park that may not be conveyed here.
With that in mind, let’s review all of Hollywood’s major attractions, shops and restaurants below.
If you’ve traveled to Universal Studios Florida in the past, you’ll probably feel at home at Universal Studios Japan since significant portions of the Japanese park were originally based on its sister park in Florida. Time has obviously gone and significant developments have occurred since Universal Studios Japan’s debut in 2001 – but the basic framework remains (albeit, with a few major modifications).
Indeed, Japan’s Hollywood mostly follows the Floridian mold, choosing instead to incorporate elements of Production Central and Hollywood into one single land rather than dividing both themes into separate sections – allowing guests to traverse through the streets of Hollywood before reaching Universal’s glamorized backlot.
Starting at the park’s entryway, Japan’s entrance is – far and away – Universal’s most elegant entryway for a studio park.
Compared to Universal Studios Florida’s awkward assortment of ticket booths, guest service windows and ticket scanners and Universal Studios Hollywood’s constantly evolving entrance plaza, Universal Studios Japan’s entryway refreshingly follows the same Art Moderne theme that began at the start of both of its two large arches. The same themeing follows through from the ticket scanners to Hollywood’s main entrance, which houses Guest Relations, First Aid and various rental facilities alongside a last call gift shop.
While perhaps a small detail to many, this cohesive entrance – and perhaps the overall park to a lesser degree – reflects a level of cohesion and forward planning that wasn’t factored into Hollywood or Florida’s initial design. Simply put, Universal Studios Japan feels like a modern Universal park that was built for the 21st century – and it shows, refining as best it can the initial standalone studio park introduced in Florida in 1990.
Of course, any thoughts on theming or cohesion goes by the wayside once you stumble upon Universal Studios Japan’s giant canopy greeting guests once they proceed past the ticketed gates.
Common among the Universal and Disney parks in Asia (Universal Studios Singapore and Tokyo Disneyland both feature similar fixtures for their entrances), this large canopy encompasses a significant portion of Hollywood – covering the initial boulevard of shops and restaurants from any potential rain.
Here’s a simplified map of Universal Studios Japan. As you can see, the park usually offers an English translation above Japanese Kanji in any of their informational publications.
If you look closely, you can also see how dense Hollywood is compared to the other lands, offering five main attractions on top of a plethora of shops and retail.
While Universal Studios Hollywood’s offering of both Gate A and Front of Line may complicate and frustrate park guests, nothing compares to Universal Studios Japan’s three-tiered Express Pass system.
To make a long story short, each tier of Express Pass gives you a limited number of opportunities to grab Front of Line access for a specific number of attractions – the notion being that the higher the tier, the more opportunities you are given. Each pass gives you an either-or option among a list of predefined attractions, and you’ll have to select which attraction you’ll like to receive Front of Line access. For example, the Universal Express Pass 5 gives you the option to select Front of Line for either The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride or Space Fantasy – The Ride – but not both. The park does not offer one-time or unlimited Front of Line access to all of their attractions.
On top of that layered system, highly trafficked attractions – like Flight of the Hippogriff – are limited certain tiers. Thus, those who wish to experience some of the attractions in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will need to upgrade to the two highest tiers of Express Pass. This system is incredibly complex and expensive, and remarkably enough, does manage to sell out on a consistent basis – sometimes minutes after the park opens. If you give yourself three days and plan accordingly, you shouldn’t need Universal Express to experience everything in the park. If you’re limited on time, this will be your only option as Universal Studios Japan is truly a massive park.
Here’s a familiar sight: the Universal Studio Store – a staple for any Universal studio park.
As is the case with most of Universal Studios Japan, this iteration of the Studio Store is very large, and very opulent, hosting a variety of Sesame Street plushies and an entire section dedicated to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Of course, it also wouldn’t be a Universal park if it didn’t include Shrek 4D.
Alright, alright – I can hear your moans now. But don’t fret! Unlike the American parks (and Universal Studios Singapore, which features an entire land and castle dedicated to Shrek), Universal Studios Japan features Shrek 4D as one of two 4D attractions – the other of which is the Sesame Street 4-D Movie Magic show. Unlike Florida, Hollywood and Singapore however, Universal Studios Japan manages rotates both movies in the same theater depending on the time of day. Thus, one can classify this theater as a giant Flex space that can be used interchangeably between different franchises. Indeed, Universal even used this theater for Halloween Horror Nights, showing an incredibly gruesome film unrelated to either Shrek or Sesame Street, complete with scissors and cutting…
But shifting back to something lighter, let’s take a look at this theater which happens to be themed after a classic cinema house.
Unlike its stateside or Singaporean counterpart, Universal Studios Japan’s 4D Cinema makes no qualms about focusing strictly on its cinema theme. Simply put, you’ll be watching a 4D movie, and depending on the time or day, it’ll either rotate between Shrek 4D or a gruesome overlay for Halloween Horror Nights (Sesame Street is typically closed during Halloween Horror Nights).
Speaking of Halloween Horror Nights, Universal Studios Japan features Horror Nights-exclusive overlays on a number of their attractions. With signs posted at the entrance of select attractions, the park will transform daytime favorites into corrupted versions at nighttime progresses. In the very specific case of Shrek 4D however, the theater simply plays a different film at night.
So how does Universal get away with showing two 4D films? With the clever use of curtains.
Like most 4D attractions, this theater follows the basic preshow-main theater format, allowing the park to essentially shoehorn any 4D film that fits the mold. In the case of Shrek 4D, side curtains alongside the large simulated Magic Mirror reveal a sparse selection of Shrek 4D animatronics – the absolute bare necessities needed to recreate the Shrek’s preshow. When it comes time for showcase Sesame Street or the Halloween Horror Nights overlay, the side curtains close, allowing audiences to focus on the main screen in the center of the room. Like the rest of this theater, the preshow room is themed after a classic cinema house rather than adhering to any specific theme such as a dungeon. You’re at a cinema house, remember? Not Far Far Away.
Thus, while Shrek 4D feels like an afterthought (almost as if Universal Studios Japan was forced to include Universal’s then newest attraction in their lineup), the flexible use of the theater allows frequent interchangeability if Universal so desires.
On the right, we have a dungeon closed-circuit monitor, and various assorted torture equipment for your convenience…
…and on your left, we have three piggies (who rumble side-to-side rather than jiggle) and Pinocchio. Close-eyed observers will also notice a small assortment of wanted Shrek posters that would normally be displayed in the attraction’s queue. Alas, that’s not the case here.
Finally, in the center we have a comically large Magic Mirror in the center of the room. Literally – it dwarfs all the other characters.
As we proceed into the main room, we’ll see that the cinema house theme – as predicted – continues on through. Overhead lighting fixtures double as ceiling fans for wind effects, while cleverly hidden moving heads on either side of the screen display various effects.
While this theater doesn’t feature the same type of moving seats as Singapore, Hollywood and Florida, it does manage to recreate Shrek 4D with enough gusto that most guests wouldn’t recognize that they’ve been given a different experience. The screen is large – certainly larger than Universal Studios Hollywood’s – and the theater’s decor makes it a pleasant experience as opposed to the sparsely themed theaters in Florida, Hollywood, and yes, even Singapore.
Heading back outside, we begin to see the transition from Hollywood to what Floridians would otherwise classify as Production Central. But make no mistake! You’re still in Hollywood.
Indeed, it may even be more appropriate to link this portion of Hollywood to Universal Studios Hollywood’s Lower Lot (otherwise known as a hodgepodge of completely unrelated attractions under the guise of a production studio). I know, it’s a weak connection, because there’s certainly no way to link how our next attraction fits in…
Perhaps the most unknown of attractions on Universal Studios Japan’s roster, Space Fantasy follows the adventure of…well, a queen or commander…who needs you to rescue or gather….stars?
Yes, try as I might, I have absolutely no clue on how to explain this ride’s plot. As a stereotypical American who can’t speak or understand Japanese, Space Fantasy is simply an attraction that you need to experience. While the ride is essentially a small spinning roller coaster that traverses through various scenes in a dark environment, its plot is whimsical at best and completely perplexing at its worst – at least to the unsuspecting tourist who didn’t brush up on his Japanese. Indeed, it’s almost akin to Space Mountain at Disneyland Park with a mix of psychedelic visuals to add to the mood.
On top of the ride’s visuals, there’s also a level of interactivity built in. As guests enter the main queue, they’ll be asked to scan their smartphones on a reader. I’m not exactly sure what this does (or even if it was working, since most guests simply passed through without scanning their devices). On top of this, team members will also request that you take a photo in a small greenroom before you head into the main preshow (you can later purchase the photo with various scenes dialed in at the end of the ride). Think of this as step up from passing your name along to E.T.
If I had to describe the attraction in objective terms, I’d say it’s a mix of scenes aimed at providing visuals based off space travel alongside a mix of multimedia – all whilst siting in a rather intense little coaster vehicle that spins along a track. The entire attraction follows a futuristic space theme – imagine if Apple designed the Enterprise from Star Trek – as guests travel through one preshow and smaller rooms leading to the loading station . You proceed to walk to a moving walkway where you’ll board a small round coaster vehicle with an occupancy of four – two in the front and two in the back – where you’ll experience Space-like visuals with a bit of whimsy mixed in.
In the end, regardless of my uninformed perception of Space Fantasy, one thing’s a sure bet – the ride is a certified hit. Throughout our stay at the park, the attraction consistently clocked in a wait time of 80-plus minutes or more. My memory’s somewhat hazy at this point, but I certainly don’t remember E.T. Adventure – Space Fantasy’s predecessor – gathering wait times as long as this, especially years after its initial debut. And for good reason too, Space Fantasy – simply put – is a fun ride that’s unlike anything in the world.
As we head into the heart of Production Centr…er…Hollywood, we’ll see another unique attraction – Animation Celebration.
Featuring Universal’s surprisingly underrepresented mascot Woody Woodpecker, Animation Celebration is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how animators create cartoons, followed by a special encounter with Woody using the same Holovision special effect used in the Mystery Lodge at Knott’s Berry Farm.
While somewhat outdated (the introductory show desperately needs to have its video updated), Animation Celebration’s spirit is actually quite unique for a Universal park. Unlike the usual barrage of robots-trying-to-kill-us, dinosaurs-trying-to-kill-us, natural-disasters-trying-kill-us that occupy the plot of many Universal attractions, Woody’s interaction with the audience – or more specifically, an animator – resembles that of a cartoon having fun with his creator. In fact, despite the dated technology behind the attraction, its entire premise – a cartoon character leaping from the cartoon world into the human world and causing mischief – is oddly unique and compelling to a wide demographic.
The attraction is not major E-ticket by any stretch of the imagination, but Animation Celebration serves as another Universal-staple – a nice behind-the-scenes look at how a facet of the movie-making industry works, whilst adding a bit of whimsy at the end. And in the world of action, intensity and thrill (especially for the American Universal parks), whimsy is always a nice trait to have at the parks, and Animation Celebration certainly delivers.
The preshow room, which features a collage of various scenes with Woody Woodpecker superimposed using a plastic frame. Up above, a host initiates a slightly-too-long video that gives a small behind-the-scenes look at the animation process.
The main show room. Here, Woody Woodpecker manages to escape from the cartoon world and into the world of humans. If you’re lucky enough like we were, you’ll also receive an animator that acts in sync with Woody’s movements. It’s a great blend of visual and practical effects.
Once you exit the main theater, you’ll have the chance to create your very own Woody cartoon. Interactive kiosks and large-scale games are availible throughout the area for you to play with.
Turning around the bend, you’ll see a full-fledged Mel’s Drive-In, similar to the Mel’s over at Universal Studios Florida (though I don’t think Florida features a Streamliner extension).
Moving to familiar territory, Universal Monsters Live Rock And Roll Show is a familiar port from Universal Studios Hollywood and to a lesser degree, Universal Studios Florida.
Housed in the Pantages Theatre (which houses the Horror Makeup Show at Universal Studios Florida), this large indoor show is a blast from the past. Featuring such classics as I Will Survive, Y.M.C.A., and Rock N Roll All Nite, the show is a classic live song-and-dance performance featuring English-speaking actors and a Japanese-speaking Beetlejuice, which means everyone (provided that you speak either Japanese or English) can enjoy the show. And while the set-list does seem somewhat outdated, the alternative (Florida’s current iteration of Beetlejuice’s Rock and Roll Graveyard Revue, which features a more up-to-date set-list) is oddly less appealing.
That aside, Universal Monsters Live is a classic Universal staple that continues to draw large audiences in the Japanese park. It’s certainly something you shouldn’t miss if you’re looking for and old-school Universal (and we’re talking old, as in, practically unchanged from its opening), if not for a chance to travel back to the 1990s.
After watching Florida’s iteration in recent years, one thing’s for certain: a show like Universal Monsters Live needs an indoor theater. Anything less makes it a less-than-remarkable experience. Indeed, much of the lighting and pyrotechnics (though much less intense) reminds me of the show that used to exist at Universal Studios Hollywood.
As we complete the turn around the corner, we can see Hollywood Dream loomng above the facades alongside a selection of stores.
Taking up a large chunk of the Hollywood skyline, Hollywood Dream – The Ride is a mega coaster that offers spectacular views of Universal Studios Japan.
Often seen as the precursor to Universal Studios Florida’s mixed Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket, Hollywood Dream allows you to select your favorite music as you rush along through Hollywood. While nothing remarkable (especially to our readers residing in Southern California), Hollywood Dream offers a pleasant coaster experience that manages to blend into the park’s scenery.
If you’re looking for a more intense experience, Hollywood Dream offers Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop, which (as its name suggests), allows you to experience the attraction in a backwards fashion.
However, if you’re looking to simply cruise onto either Hollywood Dream of Backdrop, be warned: this coaster consistently commands one of the highest wait times in the entire park. While Hollywood Dream may hover at around 90 minutes long, Backdrop can easily bump up to 130-150 minutes depending on the time of day. Indeed, Backdrop’s wait times are so long that none of Universal’s Express Pass options allow you to gain priority boarding. Single riders also face no relief, as wait times for that line hover around 100 minutes.
Suffice to say, Hollywood Dream and Backdrop are incredibly popular in the park, so be sure to hit this attraction up first as you enter through the gates. Trust us – the wait time usually doesn’t go down as the day progresses.
That does it for this overview of Hollywood at Universal Studios Japan. In the next column, we’ll be visiting New York, which features Terminator 2:3-D and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride 4K3d(!).
Jon Fu is the editor-in-chief of Inside Universal.
Jon originally founded InsideUniversal.net in 2006 as a summer hobby aimed at providing families and fans a resource for all things “Universal Studios Hollywood.” Since then, the website has taken him throughout the United States and around the world – including to places like Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Singapore.
Jon currently resides in Los Angeles, California. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.