“Jurassic Park’s” debut in Japan will be a real eye-opener for even the most ardent cinemagoers.

Twelve cinemas in Tokyo and five in Osaka are screening Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster at the unheard-of time of 6 a.m. on opening day, July 17. That will be the earliest curtain time ever in Japanese theaters: The record has been held by “Love Story,” which preemed at 7 a.m. back in 1971, according to one Japanese newspaper.

“Jurassic Park’s” 6 a.m. start is timed to allow people traveling on the first trains to get to theaters. The film will screen early on both days of the opening weekend, allowing six sessions per day. First session usually starts after 10 a.m.

United Intl. Pictures already has booked Spielberg’s opus on 235 screens in Japan (and may up the number to 250), says senior VP of worldwide marketing Hy Smith.

“This is the greatest number of theaters ever exhibiting a specific movie in Japan,” adds Yoshifumi Yuwasa, a local UIP publicist.

The movie is already so familiar to the Japanese that it’s commonly referred to simply as “Jura.” For months, huge yellow dinosaur banners have been announcing the film through merchandising tie-ins at gasoline stands, convenience store check-outs and subway ticket booths.

Advance ticket sales in the key cities exceeded 50,000 as of July 8, and Smith says the number usually doubles in the pre-launch week.

‘Jura’ madness

Meanwhile, toy stores such as Kiddyland, one of Tokyo’s busiest and most prestigious, have “Jura” and other dinosaur games, puzzles, figurines and books set up in prominent displays at the entrance.

Say Kiddyland’s managers: “Now the dinosaur section has grown and is taking over.”

Yomiuri Newspaper and Nippon Television are setting up a “Dino-Park” outside the Tokyo Dome. Seventy life-sized dinosaur replicas will be erected. The first delivery — a 15-meter-high tyrannosaurus head — graced the pages of the press several weeks ago.

Fuji TV and Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) are also getting into the act, with dinosaur-themed exhibits at two prestigious Tokyo locations — the Shin Takanawa Prince Hotel and the Ikebukuro Sunshine Building, respectively. This will be the second year in a row for both of these exhibits, proving that dinosaurs were trendy here even before Spielberg made lumbering lizards so popular Stateside.

The gods too must be smiling on Matsushita, the Japanese conglomerate that owns “Jurassic’s” producer, Universal Pictures: Several weeks ago a local paleontologist announced the discovery of the oldest fossil ever found in Japan — of a Jurassic-period iguanodon dinosaur.

Sony stoics

Exex at Sony — the Japanese conglomerate that owns Columbia Pictures — are stoically resigned to secondary status for their summer box office biggie: “Last Action Hero.”

The Schwarzenegger pic will reportedly open several weeks later, hoping that dino fever will have waned by then.

Sony marketing department manager Ryuzo Shirakawa says that since “Jurassic Park” was bigger in the U.S., “We are thinking that it will be the same situation here.”

“But,” he adds, “in the U.S., it did about three times as well as ‘Last Action Hero.’ Here we want to achieve about half that (difference).”

Holding back the opening of “Hero” will cut down on competition for moviegoers and, perhaps more important, theater space. The number of Japanese theaters has dwindled in recent years to about 1,800, one-tenth the number of the U.S. for a population half the size. Of these, only about 1,200 exhibit foreign fare; and “Jura” is opening in a record 235 venues nationwide.

Sony will open “Last Action Hero” in a very respectable 200 theaters, a number consistent with huge Hollywood releases. Despite its competition, Shirakawa says, “This is the biggest hope we’ve ever had for any film.”

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