3.11.2008

Bill Goes to USJ


As it turns out, I live only 15 minutes away from Universal Studios JAPAN and I got myself pretty worked up by the time I actually arrived. After a few lackluster weekends of working overtime in the boonies or being sick, I was in quite a tizzy when I woke up early (for me) one morning to catch the train to USJ. The previous night, Shinichi and I were all over the website checking out the attractions, cursing the altitudinal ticket prices and devising a cunning plan of attack in order to fully take advantage of our 円 6,000 / 8-hour day. I was ready. I took four Tylenol, sliced some cucumber and even put myself to bed early to ensure my preparedness for following day’s event. There are Olympic athletes who call me for dedication and determination pep talks. Seriously, I have a separate cell for this.

Naturally, Shinichi and I are all about saving money in every situation we encounter and we were not about to let today get away without a chance to exercise our thrift muscles. I’ve been around the proverbial amusement park block a few times and know what to expect when it comes to food and drink prices and Shinichi likes to eat about every twenty minutes. Thus, a plan was born. So before we boarded the train, we each hit up the two nearest convenience stores, individually of course to maximize efficiency, and bought as many onigiri as we could fit in our pockets without being detected for suspicious bulges. Damn, if I had a nickel… Anyway, for those of you not selling your soul to Satan-san, onigiri are small triangles of packed white rice, usually stuffed with anything from salmon (delish) to natto (fermented soybeans {yuck}) to chicken and mayo (my favorite) and wrapped in crisp, green nori paper. They are a wonderful, cheap (99¢) and surprisingly filling snack option of which I take full advantage daily. So, we hop on the train, make one slick-ass transfer and we arrive at Yu-ni-ba-sa-ru Shi-te-i (Universal City) in under twenty.

When the train doors opened, you would’ve sworn somebody screamed Godzilla by the way these Js were hustling. Spiky hair, neon leggings and incessant digital camera flashes flew by me on my way to the escalator. Once upstairs in the station, we bought tickets at the Station Master’s Office, a little known convenience that saved us from waiting in the ticket line outside the park, which was unnaturally long for a Monday. We made our way through the ticket booth successfully undetected, not even molested by a single metal detector. Take that, untrusting North American amusement parks! We got ourselves a 円300 locker in which Shinichi put his Gucci handbag and other accessories deemed unnecessary by typical amusement park walking-culture.

Knowing full well that we only have eight hours during which to take advantage of the park’s impeccably spell-checked offerings, Shinichi and I dash to the most popular of the attractions, The Amazing Spider-man: The Ride. Now this is something that’s always peeved me a tad. Why is it always necessary to include the phrase “the ride” when an amusement park ride is created to emulate a movie or TV-show? We KNOW that the attraction in front of us, looming 30 stories above us, is obviously a ride. None of us are considering the possibility of everyone lining up just to see some guy dressed in a Spider-Man costume. I mean what the fuck would be the point of that? Ernie, Bert and the rest of the gang are out suffocating on the street corner being trampled by j-kids peace-ing them to death. What could possibly be so special about some fairy in a colored uni-tard that he gets to be inside an air-conditioned facility and be so uppity as to require a 90-minute queue? Nothing. Exactly. So take down the sign, cover up “the ride” with some creatively photoshopped webbing and re-hang that sucker because there is no doubt in our minds that we are waiting for a ride.

Back to the more important matter at hand, since we’re ranking my thoughts by their greatness and wisdom imparted to society. Shinichi and I vigilantly wait out the 90+ minute wait for this 3+ minute ride. However, the wait was not a complete loss for society. As I’m discovering more and more, I’m quite a valuable asset to this country; me with my wide, un-hooded eyes and non-jet-black receding coif. We all know how it is when you wait on line at a theme park. There are at least 20-30 people ahead of and behind you with whom you’ll be interacting visually for the entire length of the wait if not during the actual ride itself as well. The key word here is visually. For the next indefinite period of allotted time, you’re forced to stare these people down, avoid their countering stares and pick apart their outfits in your head, telling yourself you’d never be caught in an outfit like that or with such an inordinate amount of mousse in your hair. (Yeah, mousse is still in use over here. You can’t change anything so just let it go.) So as I’m eye-raping these poor over-dressed park-goers, I’m realizing that everyone is blatantly pupil-fondling me right back, completely disregarding any previously set rules of strictly avoiding direct eye contact at all costs. However, I had forgotten about the “foreigner in an amusement park on an isolated island” amendment that was updated in last month’s Amusement-Park-Goers’ Monthly Gazette. I know it’s naughty of me, but I always skip past the boring constitutional update news column and go straight to those colorful picture editorials! So not only am I being stared down by my personal audience of 40–60 people, but a few of them start the obligatory waving and “Herro”ing. I was in no way prepared for such a social onslaught on my one of two days off this month from teaching English. A group of tactlessly curious elementary school boys, in their little military uniforms and all, start off the riot with a simple, “Herro!” It was cute enough and I responded with my teacher-voiced “Hello!” which was, of course, accompanied by a ridiculously over-gestured wave. Teaching in Japan really does a number on your natural gestures. The Js don’t understand your English unless it’s accompanied by huge, obvious, unmistakable gestures, which provide clarity for the spoken sentence. So, I’ve become a bit of an ASL-head even when speaking to perfectly competent Americans. It’s a little embarrassing but as long as I can claim teaching ESL as an excuse, you can go screw yourself and stop calling me Helen Keller. After the preliminary greeting, I followed it up with a friendly “How are you?” with my hands appropriately rolling outward from my body and pointing toward the previously mentioned conversationalist to effectively pinpoint the object of my query. However, this simple question couldn’t have been higher in the stratosphere for the kid because he answered with his unintelligibly pronounced English version of his name. Most of my days are just like this. So of course, I modeled for him, with Shinichi snickering in his up-turned collar, how to respond to the question correctly with not a single, but a double thumbs-up and a simultaneous “I’m great!” He instantly copied me because that’s how English is taught here and thus, our conversation had terminated. I politely turned my body, smiling indefinitely, and started a fast mock-conversation with Shinichi in order to signal to the schoolchildren that my teaching time had definitely come to an end. Little to my knowledge, I was to repeat these very same steps at least 5 more times throughout the day. I’m honestly surprised I was not asked to sign anyone’s flat chest.

As with all lines, ours did finally end after the pre-determined 90 minutes and we anxiously boarded the spacious 12-person open-roofed side-opening coasterish sort of contraption. Don’t play like you don’t enjoy my unending hyphenated adjective strings. The ride turned out to be probably the best of the day. (You can stop reading now if you want but you might miss some more adj-strings.) It was really creatively done with mechanical set pieces combined with 3D screens everywhere that interacted with our stylishly square 3D glasses. They also did the classic water-spray and wind-blow during the respective villain attacks, which was quite a nice addition. An all-around success if you ask this veteran. I’m currently smoking my cigar and wearing a monocle in my silk night-robe if you were wondering.

Violently struck by the piercing sunlight, I whipped out my sunglasses and we headed to the next attraction, fully refreshed by the outdoor chill after being in between so many humid J-bodies for so long. Sexy, no? We headed towards Terminator 3D and were quickly herded in to the tail end of the next showing. Being in Japan, everything was in…wait for it…Japanese! Shocker! So it was a good thing that I’d seen this show already down in Orlando back in ’98 when the video was still up to date. It was pretty entertaining to watch the Cyberdyne video of happy blonde families interacting on sunny beaches with side ponytails and solid-colored matching sweat-sets. All of this outdated goodness combined with sweet over-emoted Japanese voice acting made me the only one giggling with Shinichi hitting me because I was showing disrespect to the park. Don’t you just love their respect-the-man-group-think they’ve got going on over here? We’re soon seated and the show starts with a live actress displaying the most recent T-1000 robots, which are meant to protect the citizens of Cyberdyne’s local city. However, Sarah and John Connor soon drop from the ceiling and interrupt the presentation. This would’ve been really badass if the actors weren’t white and lip-syncing to the Japanese audio playback again. Something about the audio and the visual just didn’t click for me so I focused on the uber-fun 3D images popping out at me through my 3D glasses, also stylishly square. The crowning affair was probably when Arnold busted through the screen on his motorcycle and shot the Japanese bitch point blank in the face with his shotgun. Although he also spoke in Japanese, it really didn’t matter cuz most of what Arnold always said in the movies was pretty unintelligible to begin with so they really got lucky in this aspect. However, for future reference, Arnold was about 30, white with the correct haircut and a little chunky around the middle. Not the perfect Terminator, but close enough from a distance to maintain the illusion. Everything here is always about maintaining something’s or someone’s illusion whether it be with the latest clothes, pounds of make-up or a mess of crazy host hair at angles only previously achieved in manga comics.

Right after Terminator finished, we weaved our way through the dawdling crowd of J-park-goers and hit up our first non-3D and actual moving ride of the day, Jurassic Park. Now, you must understand that I was really very honestly and wholeheartedly excited to mount this ride. Seriously, I can’t say that very often, living in Japan and all. (Snicker, snicker) I’ve always loved Jurassic Park, especially the part when T-Rex chomps down through the SUV’s glass sunroof and the kids are holding it up between his teeth and their puny, little legs. I was totally on the edge of my little 1994 seat when I first saw that animatronic craziness. On top of that, I had seen, maybe only in my head, advertisements for Universal Studios back in the day about the Orlando ride that simulated that exact thin-sheet-of-glass-between-human-and-dinosaur situation. Needless to say, I was thoroughly disenchanted upon entering the ride’s vehicle without seeing any glass-roof mechanism above my head. Fucking safe-ass Japan can’t have any fun. The Jurassic Park ride was a water ride and since it was about 40 degrees that day, I wasn’t all that psyched about this but I still gave it a go cuz I’m still more hardcore than stupid Jeff Goldblum in that silly droplet on the hand scene which had something vaguely to do with his theory of chaos. It was your basic 12-person yellow lifeboat contraption, an average log flume denizen. I tightened my hood to sphincter-like tension and braced myself for the worst. I’m picturing Sesame Street Lazy River style water attacks where they always soak you with the most innocent-looking contraptions. However, I was a bit let down when the whole first 3 minutes of the ride was a dry, sluggish tour through a bright and sunny Jurassic Park followed by the unforeseen escape of the velociraptors in the cow-feeding pen. What a fucking surprise, right? Boring! I’ve seen this already and if they didn’t show me the mauled cow in the movie, you’re sure as hell not going to show it to me live. Anyway, it finally paid off once they took us up the classic end-of-ride ramp for the quintessential freefall, typical of most blog-worthy flumes. This freefall was quite an exciting one because just as we finally came across the T-Rex, the clunky thing lumbers directly toward our boat and just as it lowers it’s jaws to gobble us up, the boat drops right down that slope to freedom! We all saw it coming but it was just such a nice rush compared to the early-bird-special ride that it began as. To sum it up, I was wet and happy and for once, didn’t need a Kleenex to solve that adjectival combo.

We barely disembarked from our yellow dingy before Shinichi is checking one of his three (completely unnecessary) cell phones to verify the hour. He looks up at me in 100% honest despair and says, “Bill, if we do not run, we will certainly miss the 2:30 Waterworld show.” His concern was absolutely classic, as if our lives depended on making it to this outstanding performance of action-packed water stunts. So of course, we sprinted down the handicapped-only exit ramp and made it to the Waterworld arena just as the attendants were shutting the doors. Why they were shutting them, I’m not sure. The amphitheatre was nowhere near capacity. Shinichi and I walked right up front to the splash zone and didn’t even have to block anyone’s view in doing so. Alright, so there we were, psyched as hell for this supposedly award-winning stunt show. It opens with this girl riding around the pool on a jet ski. She’s wearing a long-white top connected to a skirt with a blue-ish end-of-civilization tattered vest over it. Under the top/skirt, she’s wearing these extremely unflattering nude tights. She’s in the water all day in March. I’m pretty sure she’s not wearing these for aesthetic reasons. Either way, she looks pretty uncomfortable in this getup. She’s running around for a while, speaking her lines in Japanese through her non-existent microphone and lip-syncing pretty badly. However, all the Js are absolutely smitten with this character. “Beautiful white lady talk my words!” Soon enough, their collective bubbles are burst when Dennis Hopper’s badass pirate king character comes storming through the main gates of the pool backed up by some death metal song on the loudspeakers. I’ll admit that if I were enslaved into acting in this Waterworld show, I would most probably want this badass pirate king role. He had a little Japanese sidekick and everything! So he talks a bit, she talks a bit, he monologues, he captures her, etc. I’m pretty bored. I’m falling asleep cuz the acting’s bad, I can’t understand the dialogue and no one’s even sporting any prosthetic gills. Then out of nowhere, WHACK! I’m hit rather forcefully, square in the forehead, with a fucking golf ball. I’m completely awoken from my daze and I turn my head to see the majority of the jaudience laughing at me in that stereotypical Asian hand-over-mouth laugh. Ugh! Apparently, part of the pirate king’s bit is that he’s bored while waiting for the Kevin Costner character to come rescue the girl and so he starts to play golf off the side of his little boat. Of course, they use these light-as-hell hollow golf balls, like a heavier ping-pong ball, but still they fly. So on his first shot, I’m struck nicely in the face and the Js couldn’t have been more pleased with the silly foreigner who didn’t listen when the loudspeakers said, “Fore!” in Japanese. Whoops! My mistake! So after that, I continued to pay attention, lest there be any more spontaneous sporting events to which I wanted to be privy. The rest of the show continued pretty predictably with the girl being rescued, the villain finally dying with a pretty sick fall into the water and some explosions with an actual floatplane being shot through a wall. The only thing that really stood out after the golf ball incident was the size of Kevin Costner’s character. He was this really husky, older gentleman who reminded me of Mr. Incredible before the get-in-shape montage part of the movie. He was pretty tall, compared to j-standards and had wavy blonde hair but was lumbering around the stage like he was dragging a ball and chain full of donuts and Thanksgiving turkey. This guy was nothing like what the mariner should’ve looked like but the audience fully forgave his character-related shortcomings due to his dreamy, blonde coif. Appearance is everything!

After the spectacular piece of wondrous outdoor theatre known to the Js as Waterworld, we hit up these unremarkable attractions in the following order:
1. Jaws – short line, same ride as in America, unusually good acting from the over-jolly boat driver. Thumbs up, Yumiko!
2. Hollywood Dreams, The Ride – a rollercoaster that was shut down. The only roller coaster in the park.
3. Black people singing – four African Americans singing really bad R&B music in a carnival style trailer.
4. Sesame Street 3D – a crock of fucking shit with too much water being sprayed in our faces from the seats in front of us. Shinichi and I were both angry upon exiting, having undoubtedly wasted our precious park time on such a trivial experience.
5. Back to the Future, The Ride – a very nice way to end the day. Nostalgic yet refreshing. Really similar to Spiderman, just not as flashy. Old enough to feel a twinge of danger.

And thus, we concluded our day at USJ. Seven attractions, dancing Negroes and one closed coaster. We considered it a success despite the midday rain. More to come on this week’s Maroon 5 concert. Millions of Js gyrating to Adam Levine’s artfully raised shirttails is always worth some Internet space in my book. さよなら!