I finally made it to Universal Studios Japan this past week after months of delays and detoured plans. The main reason for me to visit was to check out their newest area in the park: Land of Oz.
But first, upon my arrival to USJ, I was *shocked* to find out they are building a new roller coaster (yet unnamed but slated to open in srping 2007) over and behind the Hollywood Boulevard area of the park. You can see by the photos why this is not a good idea. Now... while I welcome any new additions to any of the parks I frequent, be Disney or Universal, I am taken aback by the poor placement of this new ride.
I love roller coasters as much as anyone does... don't get me wrong, which is why I enjoy Universal's IOA in Orlando quite a lot, and seeing a little helping of that at USJ is good news to me. However, why oh why did they have to destroy the elegant look of Hollywood Blvd by placing a coaster that will tower high over the top and back of the Hollywood Blvd facades, and even more odd, a portion of the track that stretches over the main entryway into the park??? I find the whole placement of this coaster to be ill conceived and planned. While I am sure the ride will be a lot of fun...(and it's beginning to look quite thrilling) I have to give it thumbs down as the designers didn't appear to care much about the elegant Hollywood from the Golden Age sets that to me, set a higher standards in theming for an Universal "studios" park. Remains to be seen how the noise created by this new coaster and it's finished look will impact the entire Hollywood Boulevard area.
Now on to Land of Oz... Forget Judy's version and MGM's glorious take on Oz. Universal Japan's Land of Oz is a nice but unimpressive take on the famed tale of Dorothy from Kansas. While the effort is nice (certainly nicer than say... Toontown Fair at WDW) our mindset in regards to Oz is purely MGM. Therefore, the version presented to us here registers to some degree but lacks the charm and wonder of MGM's old movie. But I have to give kudos to Universal for trying and reinventing something that is so pop-culture for many. It took galls to pull off, and better yet, Land of Oz, redeems itself with one heck of a broadway style show, and a favorite of many I may add.
Land of Oz was built in the former Old West section of USJ and a couple of areas still have that Old West feel to them... The area is small when compared to the other areas of USJ...it consists of a restaurant, a gift shop, several snack carts, the animal actors stage (now called "Toto and Friends Animal show") and the piece du resistance: A 35-min version of Broadway's runaway musical hit "Wicked". To add to the fun, our famed Oz characters appear here as rubber heads and face characters. The gal I saw playing Dorothy was very engaging with guests and quite pretty. The cowardly Lion rubber head was to say the least huge in appearance and with guests, probably because it's a cute take on the character we all remember by MGM's standards. The animal show is standard fare similar to the other long running Animal Actor Stage show from Universal Hollywood and Orlando, but with a slight storyline as Dorothy and friends look for Toto.
Next door to the Animal show, in the Emerald City Theater (formerly the home of the Wild Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show) is now the showplace where a glorious 35 minute version of the popular Broadway show "Wicked" plays. Mind you... I have never seen the original version of this show so it was new to me, but I am told this little show closely resembles the real one in feel and look. However, going into it without prior knowledge, I was simply WOWED! by the talent on the stage. The dancers and choreography was awesome, the lead actresses (especially the one playing the Witch) were extraordinary talented. The show production was great and overall, the show was a solid Broadway offering, in the shortest amount of time possible. I came out of the theater shaking my head in disbelief.. as this was one of the very best shows I have even seen in any theme park, and I mean right up there in caliber and quality to other comparable productions, such as DLP's Lion King, TDS' Big Band Beat, and even DAK's new Nemo Musical. Certainly makes me want to go check out the real deal on Broadway or when the traveling tour hits my town.
As for other wonderful things at USJ of late.. they are now in Xmas mode as they present their "Universal Wonder Christmas" event. The Hollywood and NYC areas of the park are very nicely decorated for Xmas. Nicer than what I have seen at other Disney parks in FL so far in fact.
Universal Japan also happens to feature what I believe is the most stunningly beautiful and high tech Xmas tree ever placed in a theme park. The tree towers about 6 stories high and features a dozen different light movement combinations that makes for a most amazing and kinetic light display. You can sit there for half hour starring at this electric marvel of a tree and never get bored. One moment, the tree is green with silver fiber optic garland, and the next moment it's electric blue with strobes, just to turn into a swirly red extravaganza to soothing greens or rainbow colors.... then there is the all silver mode with elegant strobes and fiber optic splendor.
This Xmas Tree is a stunner. A visual delight that will grab your attention and won't let go.
Finally, the tree is lit up during the "Christmas Carol" lighting ceremony, which is a very solemn presentation worthy of the ocasion. The ceremony features an awesome choir of voices, carolers, and then for the finale... angels that "fly" high above the stage as a snowfall comes down over the entire stage and tree area. Simply a heart warming lighting ceremony NOT to be missed.
All in all, USJ continues to excel in many ways with it's entertainment options thru the year. They have learned from TDR and revel in it, since their seasonal events are second to only TDR's.
TDLFAN says "check it out". Here are the photos for your enjoyment.
NOTE: Photos/video are strictly prohibited during "Wicked" so I was unable to bring you a taste of that, but I have seen video of the show on YouTube if you care to search for that on your own... Enjoy the photos!