Cinema World should be a trip

California has one. Florida has one. Now, thanks to Shochiku, Japan has one, too. No, it’s not Disneyland. It’s a movie studio theme park and it’s set to open on Oct. 10.

Kamakura Cinema World, which is wholly owned and operated by the Shochiku Co., has fittingly timed its opening to celebrate the centennial not only of the company, but also of the birth of motion pictures.

After three years of planning, construction on the theme park and new studio cost about 15 billion yen (more than $150 million at current exchange rates). The park will open on the site of the company’s current studio near Kamakura, and the head of the Cinema World Department, Atsushi Matsumoto, says he “expects about 2 million people per year to visit the indoor park and studios,” thanks to a convenient location close to Tokyo and Yokohama on several major train lines.

According to local tourist association figures, about 22 million people travel annually to the already existing famous tourist sites in Kamakura such as the outdoor Big Buddha and many beautiful temples. Shochiku hopes to attract many of these tourists, and if the company is successful in reaching its attendance targets, it will recoup all its costs – and start turning a profit – by the end of the park’s first year in operation. Matsumoto says, “We definitely can be in the black by the end of the first year; make no mistake.”

The theme park will be decorated with memorabilia from Japanese film history – a history that often is synonymous with Shochiku’s own history. Matsumoto emphasizes that “Japanese movie history is Shochiku’s history and vice versa.” The company is considered a film pioneer in Japan, and the theme park is a testament to that spirit. Shochiku made its first film in 1920 and was the first Japanese company to produce a talkie (1931) and a color film (1951).

The studio is best known in Japan for the world’s longest running film series – the 48th of the beloved “Tora-san” movie series will be released this Christmas season. It has also been home at one time or another to the three most internationally famous and respected Japanese directors: Yoji Yamada (of “Tora-san” fame), Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa.

Kamakura Cinema World plans to honor all of these characters, real and fictional, as well as the entire history not just of Shochiku’s 100 years, but of film in general.

Admission to the park will run 1,800 yen (about $20) for adults and about $15 for students ages 4 and older. Escalators will whisk visitors to the second floor, called “Hollywood Street.” Here, shops will sell character goods and movie paraphernalia from Shochiku, as well as from various major Hollywood studios. With an eye to Japan’s unpredictable weather, the ceiling here is made of glass that can be retracted on nice days.

“Hollywood Street” also will contain a special-effects’ studio as well as several taping studios – all of which will be used for commercials, television dramas, and even some movie scenes, with visitors invited to watch and learn about how the illusions onscreen are created.

Two studio rides will be featured on the indoor park’s second floor: A virtual reality theater in the “Future Zone,” and a motion simulator “Backstage Ride” in which cars of about 15 visitors are taken behind the scenes.

Up on the roof will be a playground for children filled with various animated characters and attractions such as a section where kids can view the world from the point of view of a mouse.

The rest of the indoor park will be devoted to a Japan of a bygone era, complete with a recreation of the streets of Shibamata, home of the “Tora-san” movies. Series director Yamada oversaw the construction of this set because it also will function as the working set for each year’s new episode of “Tora-san.”

A time-travel tunnel will take visitors back to old Kyoto during the Edo period, where actors in samurai, geisha, peasant, merchant and nobility costumes will wander the streets, and there’ll also be a restaurant in the style of an Edo period kabuki playhouse.

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