Kyoto: Savouring a bit of Japanese cheese

By Michele Hewitson

It's silly and a little fake, but Kyoto's Movieland is also pretty fun, says Michele Hewitson.

Geishas at Movieland in Kyoto. Photo / Michelle Hewitson
Geishas at Movieland in Kyoto. Photo / Michelle Hewitson

Did I want to go to Movieland? Well, no. It was on the schedule, somewhere between a Zen temple with mutant carp, a 700-year-old garden and the bamboo forest, so not going would have been impolite.

But Kyoto feels like one big theme park. The idea of visiting one seemed unnecessary at best and silly at worst.

Toei Uzumasa Movieland is a sort of theme park but it is also a working film set.

I don't know what the Shetland pony was doing there. Shetlands look cute (how the Japanese young like cute) but they are bad tempered.

Even scarier is the haunted house. I thought, "Pah, a haunted house. This'll be cheesy."

Are those actors, or animated creepy bandaged bloody figures who come at you from dark corners? I wasn't about to investigate.

There was a warning. "Don't ever think about kicking, punching, pushing or pulling [the ghosts.]"

I wasn't about to ever, or even, touch one of those apparitions. You can dress up as a samurai, a courtesan or a kabuki dancer. We thought about how we'd look and decided the ghosts didn't need the competition.

Don't miss the movie school show. Now that is cheesy, but in the best possible way. There's fake rain and wind (they drag out a domestic fan). There's a smart samurai good guy and a dumb Ninja bad guy and a panto dialogue (to the audience: "What are you doing over there?") Watch the silly Ninja put a knife in his head.

There is an outdoor show in which an inept, morose salesman attempts to sell frog oil ointment.

There were no subtitles for this show; they weren't needed. Everyone knows a frog oil salesman when they see one, except the kid who ran off screaming after the sleight of hand trick with the fake blood, gone deliberately wrong. Well, it made me laugh.

You can have your picture taken with the actors, who don't pretend to be anything but actors.

"Hi!" said a Samurai, strolling past. The actresses playing geishas are a little less ethereal than the real thing. I loved the place, possibly more than the real Kyoto. It's like Motat - a bit dusty and not at all slick - but with samurai and ninjas instead of old planes and steam engines.


Getting there: Air New Zealand operates six direct services per week from Auckland to Tokyo.

Further information: See Movieland is at Toei's Kyoto Studio.

Michele Hewitson was taken to Movieland by Air New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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