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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Toei Eiga Mura (Toei Movie Land)

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Kyoto's Eiga Mura, or Toei Movie Land, is a sometimes cheesy but often fun theme park located on the grounds of what was once the center of the Hollywood of Japan: the Toei Film Studios. Until the early 1970s, Toei churned out a combination of samurai period dramas and, more importantly, works by the masters of Japanese cinema. This period stretched from the early part of the last century through the late 1960s.

eiga-muraThough the studios are still used for the occasional samurai film--which are made almost wholly for domestic consumption, and decidedly B-class--it survives today primarily as a tourist attraction for junior high students from around Japan who are in Kyoto on their annual overnight school trip.

This is apparent from the moment you enter the park. The front of the former studio is now a massive parking lot for tour buses filled with uniform-wearing adolescents on holiday. When you enter, you first must go through an "All-weather Large-scale Complex" known as PADIOS, which is a combination gift shop/arcade/super hero movie theater/restaurant. Getting your eight-year-old through this without spending money requires a minor miracle.

Finally out of that, it is time for the attractions. First is the "chambara show," a demonstration of Japanese-style sword-fighting. The program featured two bad guys and one good guy; the three of them jokingly walked us through the basics of stick-fighting.

From there, it was a short walk to the Nakamura-za theater, where a "ninja show" was taking place. We arrived a bit late and before entering were looking at a few old movie posters in the lobby when out came the star in full kabuki-like makeup and wig. He winked as he strode past us and into the theater.

After the show, we wandered around Edo Town and Old Shopping Street and Yoshiwara Street, which on a cold February day were deserted. These were models of an old shopping street and homes from the Edo Period, and are still used as film sets.

In the far back of the lot, along with a few movie-related attractions a haunted house and more gift shops awaited.

Except for a Study Hall, though, in which there are photos and artifacts and old movie posters, there is very little indication of what the Studio once was. The theme park's home page moreover has no information, in either Japanese or English, about the vaunted history of the studios. To film buffs, the Toei Studios are hallowed ground, wherein lurk the ghosts of Kurosawa, Mifune, Setsuko Hara, and the many others who drove Japan's "Golden Era" of cinema in the 1950s and 1960s.

Still, it is a good day out for children of all ages.

Access

A five-minute walk from Uzumasa Station on the Keifuku Line (which is also convenient for Koryuji Temple). From JR Hanazono or Uzumasa Stations, a roughly 15-minute walk. The following buses also stop close by: 61, 62, 63, 75, 93.

The Kyoto Film Studio is open from 9 - 5 pm from March 1 - November 30; 9:30 - 4:30 pm from December 1 until the end of February. Tickets for adults cost 2,200 yen; junior and senior high school students 1,300 yen; elementary students 1,100 yen.


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