Recently I had a chance to visit Seibuen Amusement Park in Tokorozawa and check out Godzilla the Ride (ゴジラ・ザ・ライド), and I want to take some time to record my impressions here.
As has been widely reported, Godzilla the Ride is a new attraction at the newly-reborn Seibuen Amusement Park in Tokorozawa, which is located in Saitama prefecture. The amusement park was closed down last year as a measure against covid, and also as an excuse to revamp the park with new attractions. Seibuen was reopened on May 19, 2021, and in addition to the Godzilla ride, the park now also boasts a 1960s style, nostalgia-fueled “Sunset Hill Shopping District” made of 30 shops created to appear as if they had popped out of yesteryear where you can buy old-fashioned snacks and enjoy performances from the theme park’s wacky cast. There are also new attractions featuring Osamu Tezuka characters, and some old classics like a Ferris wheel and a tower that rises to give attendees a view of Mt. Fuji. As a part of the renewal, too, the amusement park now uses “Seibuen yen”—if you want to buy food and knick-knacks, you need to exchange your real-world cash for fake money first, which is just as obnoxious as it sounds.
Godzilla the Ride—or “Godzilla the Ride: Giant Monsters Ultimate Battle” (ゴジラ・ザ・ライド 大怪獣頂上決戦)—is part of a towering, enhanced movie theater called the Sunset Hall. It is basically a more elaborate version of a 4D movie theater. The ride features a five-minute short film featuring Godzilla, King Ghidorah, and Rodan battling it out in 1960s Japan, directed by Takashi Yamazaki… who also directed the Always: Sunset on Third Street trilogy of films, the second of which featured a memorable cameo from the Big G in a dream sequence. For genre aficionados, Yamazaki is well-known for directing a number of memorable sci-fi/fantasy films, such as the Parasyte films and Destiny: the Tale of Kamakura (2017) and Space Battleship Yamato (2010), among others. Yamazaki ALSO redesigned Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah for this short film.
The Seibuen Amusement Park
To be quite honest, the new version of Seibuen Amusement Park, with its focus on nostalgia and 1960s Showa Japan, seems to be an attempt to bring Yamazaki’s Always films to life; even the five-minute Godzilla the Ride could be seen as an elaboration on Godzilla’s cameo in the second Always film, as it features similar, sometimes nearly identical sequences from that movie. Note that this is not a criticism—I for the most part love the Always trilogy, and I revel in nostalgia for the past, too. However, it blows me away that essentially a tiny cameo appearance of Godzilla has been expanded into a full-blown amusement park experience.
I should also say, as I think I am one of the only foreigners who can write this… I have been to Seibuen Amusement Park before its renewal. I didn’t realize it until after I arrived for my visit to Godzilla the Ride, but I am 99.9% certain I have been there before. When I lived in Chiba, I used to visit some friends in Saitama from time to time, and we always met near this amusement park. I didn’t know the name of the park at the time, but it was really out in the sticks, and I walked through the park once when I stopped at the wrong station. It was full of old, boring rides and seemed incredibly uninteresting. Once I saw they were hosting a classic cars convention at the park. I took pictures with some of these cars back in the day.
Coming back now to experience Godzilla the Ride, I was overcome with nostalgia and an almost eerie sense of destiny… a tale of Saitama, though, not of Kamakura.
I visited Seibuen Amusement Park on September 25, 2021, after a night of little sleep in a capsule hotel. (That was a whole other adventure, as I didn’t realize I was booking a capsule hotel until I arrived…) When I got to the park, there were more people than I expected, but still no massive crowds. The Sunset Hall with its Godzilla the Ride sign were prominently visible from the station, up on a hill. When I went through the gate, I approached the ticket counter, and noticed a sign that said no one with tattoos or even body paint would be allowed inside. A staff member was also standing nearby announcing the same through a loudspeaker again and again, as if sporting a tattoo would ruin the park for everyone. One of the few English-language reviews of Seibuen Amusement Park I found online complains about this discrimination as well, stating that the park wouldn’t let him in even if he agreed to cover up his tattoos.
I have heard of this kind of discrimination before at places such as gyms and public baths (the capsule hotel I stayed at, which featured a public bath, also refused people with tats). However, this was the first time I have seen an amusement park with such blatantly discriminatory regulations. Now I have no tattoos, and I am not interested in getting any, and I do understand that much of this kind of regulation stems less from anti-foreigner bias than it does from trouble with Yakuza, but regulations like these still make me steamed and give me pause. Frankly, seeing such strict enforcement of such a backwards rule, I want to say maybe skip this park—they don’t deserve your business.
There are other reasons for skipping Seibuen Amusement Park, but let’s get to Godzilla the Ride before delving into such negativity. Thankfully, the ride itself is a real pleasure, and fans and non-fans alike should get a lot of enjoyment out of the experience. Although the short film itself I have heard was already leaked online, I will combine my thoughts on the experience of the visit with my review of the film itself.
Godzilla the Ride Experience
After stashing my bags in an EXPENSIVE locker (five hundred yen! Geez!), I went straight to Sunset Hall, where a sign claimed there was a zero-minute wait. Despite the sign, I had to wait some time before the actual ride started. As it turned out, there is a system in place at Seibuen Amusement Park for folks to pay for a fast-track ticket and get on the rides quicker. On the day I went, purchasing such a ticket would have been a colossal waste of money given that there were so few people, but even had there been great meandering crowds, most of the rides at Seibuen are unremarkable at best, so I can’t imagine most people bothering with the purchase. All that said, we were all lined up for some reason along the fast-track lane, and we all had to be moved to the normal line by the staff. Given that no one was sporting the fast-pass, it all seemed rather purposeless to me.
The inside of Sunset Hall was decked out with movie posters, created in a retro-style, but for films which I don’t think exist. I wondered if maybe they were past rides at Sunset Hall, but as far as I can tell Sunset Hall was created for the renewal of the park, and Godzilla the Ride was the first attraction featured. Still, the retro movie posters were charming, and one looked to be a yokai-themed picture, another about a boy that could change size (Sanbai Boy, or “three times boy”–can grow three times his size).
The staff eventually led us into a chamber, directing each person to stand on a particular number circle on the floor. Projectors were affixed to the ceiling and were splashing images of fake windows and wall textures on the walls around us. The set-up reminded me of Universal Studios Japan and their Godzilla the Real 4D and Godzilla vs. Evangelion 4D theater experience, which also featured a gathering space for everyone and projections on the walls that could be switched out for other attractions such as the Sailor Moon or the Attack on Titan one, though USJ did not have the numbered flooring. As we were waiting, a staff member dressed in military fatigues burst from a nearby door to inform us of that King Ghidorah had been sighted and was attacking the city nearby (at some point the projected walls “cracked” and windows “shattered”). I am pretty sure he name-dropped Dr. Yamane as a researcher, but I didn’t catch what exactly Yamane did or said in relation to KG and Godzilla. As the military guy explained the monster attack, we got to watch a short video showing King Ghidorah’s attack, and the appearance of Godzilla’s back fins in the ocean. We were told that we would be evacuating in a military vehicle, and it appeared that we would all have our legs dangling out the back for some reason. There was also a charming video with animations and illustrations showing us where to stash our bags and other safety information for the ride. Then KG attacked, the projected walls shattered around us, and we got a close-up look at one of the tri-headed terror’s heads gazing in at us from outside—maybe Kevin? The CGI looked really great as his eye hovers closer, menacing, and then backs away, and then we were ushered inside to our seats by enthusiastic Seibuen staff in formal wear.
One of the highlights of the ride was the staff—the military guy and the others, who were exploding with energy and excitement. The fellow playing the military man gave a dramatic, compelling speech both times I saw him—he was well into his part, and it made the experience oodles more compelling. As an enthusiast of theme park rides, I am convinced that the staff are a substantial part of what makes a successful and exciting experience—or a flopping waste of time. When I went to check out the Godzilla VR ride, the lady who was in charge of getting me set up in my “helicopter” was enthusiastically playing the part of a rod-iron tough military lady, and it made the truly mediocre attraction ten times more enjoyable than it otherwise might have been. The staff at Nijigen no Mori were also a lot of fun, giving me quality guidance and cheerful service—even if the announcer before the film was a little low-energy. Heck, the lady who performed at the Terminator 2 attraction at USJ was hilarious and fantastic—I could watch her deliver her lines a million times! And the hilarious guide in the Jaws attraction, too, made that classic ride one of my favorite parts of the entire park. The staff at Seibuen, not just at Godzilla the Ride but everywhere, made the park a far more enjoyable adventure than it otherwise might have been, and I am totally appreciate their hard work and big energy.
Anyway, we got to our seats (the staff member who ushered us into place was, if anything, even more energetic than the military guy—he must have been exhausted by the end of his shift!). The seats were sizable, with adjustable belts, and huge pockets to put bags underneath. After we were all successfully situated (no hats, and I took off my headphones, but masks were still in place), barriers decked out with lights lowered in front of us, and the seats moved forward so that our feet dangled out over the edge of the floor.
We were just hanging there in front of a gargantuan circular screen that took up almost our entire viewing space.
My understanding from Norman England’s review over on the Monstrosities kaiju vlog on YouTube is that there are actually three levels to the attraction, and true fans try to get the experience on all three levels. When I say levels, I mean floors—it’s the same film no matter which floor you sit on, but given the angle you are viewing from, there are subtle differences to the experience. When Mr. England went, he apparently got to experience the film from the second and third floors, but I am pretty sure I got the second floor both times. Which is fine—the staff never gave us a choice of which floor we wanted to go to, and I wasn’t bothered about being quite that particular.
Ride Events Walkthrough
Shortly after Godzilla the Ride debuted, I heard rumors that the short film had been leaked on the Internet, and heard some impressions of the film on the Kaiju Transmissions podcast. Thus, I am not sure if it is strictly necessary for me to go over what exactly happens in the film… Industrious individuals presumably could track down the actual movie and see it for themselves. Still, I want to at least go over the highlights, and my feelings and impressions of the film and experience.
The setting of the video is a retro Japan from the 1960s obviously patterned after Yamazaki’s Always movies, and it looks great—the city itself is very convincing, other than how the image on the screen warps around the edges (the screen is a massive round thing, and so the city seems to twist into oblivion along the outer ridge). The military vehicle in which we as the audience are supposed to be riding drives around the city at breakneck speed, with the movements of the chairs’ movements matching well with the onscreen action—albeit I will say it never really feels like riding in a truck (with the subtle bumps and crunches) so much as maybe a hovercraft. There is also a question as to the orientation of the truck—in the instructional videos, we are shown that escapees are riding in the back of the truck with legs dangling free out the back, but my impression while experiencing the ride often felt more like we were riding on the hood, or that we were backing up a LOT, but given that the film is just a crazy ride with tons of action and monsters smashing stuff, I mean, it doesn’t matter one iota either way. I will also freely admit that I paid basically zero attention to the Japanese dialogue during the film, so I can’t give a play-by-play of what they were saying.
The early portion of the ride has the escape vehicle barreling through the streets of Tokyo as King Ghidorah attacks. Train cars go flying by (just like in Always 2), and Tokyo Tower (which was originally finished in 1958) gets destroyed at some point (I mean, it had to). King Ghidorah begins pursuing the escape vehicle and eventually manages to grab “us” in his mouth, carrying the vehicle way up in the sky. Unlike in the advertisements, where viewers can see KG from a third-person perspective carrying the escape vehicle in his middle mouth, in the actual ride of course we are looking out from behind the regal monster’s giant teeth. So we zoom up into the sky as Ghidorah cackles and roars, and then suddenly Rodan appears and manages to knock the vehicle out of KG’s grasp. The vehicle falls away, and parachutes pop out the sides (not sure why the vehicle has parachutes, but I am glad it does because that’s awesome), and, while the vehicle is blown about in the wind, we see KG smash Rodan into the ground and roast him with a triple blast of those devastating gravity beams. After the vehicle floats down, we land for a bit on the roof of a building, then basically roll off the side again.
Godzilla appears very dramatically, and we end up driving up the side of his body, the vehicle bumping along the Big G’s chunky hide. This sequence brought to mind the old Dark Horse comic “To Climb the Highest Monster”, or the classic sequence from Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) wherein Major Kiriko Tsujimori climbs Godzilla in the ocean. At any rate, it feels like a loving callback, and continues the trend of amusement park rides featuring a means to get up close and personal with the kaiju king.
At any rate, we eventually wind up on the street again, and Godzilla engages with KG in an epic and very physical confrontation. KG bites Godzilla with snake-like movements that seem inspired by Godzilla King of the Monsters (2019), and Godzilla throws the triple-headed monster so that he spirals over our heads. After some sparring, King Ghidorah gets caught mid-air by a blast from Godzilla’s atomic breath, which is so powerful in this iteration that it blasts a hole through KG’s chest! The space dragon is down, and Godzilla appears triumphant.
Then the escape vehicle tries to drive away, only to find that one of KG’s heads is still quite animated, and wants a last meal! The neck snakes around the buildings, the mouth snaps and bites over and over as the vehicle tries to escape, and just when it seems our time is up… Godzilla’s foot comes down, and smashes KG’s head, splattering blueish monster blood all over. (The gory death of KG, too, felt like a nod to the Legendary films and their cheerful indulges with grotesque monster barbarism.) Godzilla issues a triumphant roar, and we get a big slamming “GODZILLA THE RIDE” logo at the end!
Godzilla the Ride Review
The ride is a LOT of fun, and not overly long. Since I didn’t have to wait hours to get inside, it was even better—I just got to enjoy the ride, and the escalating action is suitably amped and insane so as to consistently offer thrills and real entertainment. The other attendees were shrieking and yelling along with the excitement on screen, and when Godzilla blasts the hole in KG, and then stomps his head into the ground, man. It felt so satisfying. I was grinning so hard.
The monster designs are not going to be to everyone’s tastes—I don’t think it’s even possible to please all fans—but they look good. Godzilla looks truly fearsome, with a nasty and toothy visage, and that wicked, scarred uneven hide. His head is arguably a bit small (especially in the toy version), which makes his other body parts appear outsized, but I still love his huge claws and dark skin. I maintain that he is essentially an updated version of the Always Godzilla, made to look meaner. King Ghidorah is a little more daring in his design, stepping away from the classic Asian dragon physique and taking on a more Westernized dragon look, with sharp beak-like hooks on his snoots and enormous, beautiful wings. I am a fan of the classic KG, but I like it when Toho takes risks with designs, and I figure Yamazaki should go ahead and try something new here, and I think the Yamazaki Ghidorah works to differentiate itself from previous iterations. Glad to see he retained his gold hue.
Rodan, however, I felt was disappointing. Rodan is one of my favorite of the classic kaiju, with his solo outing being my first real kaiju flick. Godzilla the Ride felt like a bit of a nod to the two-on-one fight between Godzilla, Rodan, and KG back in Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965). But Rodan’s design feels uninspired; his dark colors hearken back to Showa designs, with a sleek body and spikey layout that felt more Heisei to me. As far as the look goes, it didn’t feel like it differentiated itself enough, and Rodan has so little screentime and is defeated so quickly that I was a smidgeon bummed. He doesn’t even get his own toy! I am glad he at least made an appearance (the boy has to work!), but especially after his lame showing in the 2019 film where he just gets aced so quick and made into KG’s whipping toy… I really want to see Rodan have a decent comeback. He deserves better.
As for the ride experience itself, again, with the actor at the beginning, and the way that the movements of the seats match up with the action, it’s a gloriously exciting experience that I wish all Godzilla fans would get a chance to experience. Although I do have two caveats.
One is that I just don’t like getting jerked violently around in my seat very much, at least to the level we have here. I have gone to a number of similar attractions, and the closest in flavor to Godzilla the Ride of course were the USJ experiences—and the MXD and 4D movie experiences I have had. Best I can recall, the USJ rides were not as violent and aggressive in the way the chairs moved with the action—I enjoyed those rides more as rides, though they were not as immersive given that the seats were arrayed like in a traditional movie theater. With the 4D theaters equipped with moving chairs, some I have seen allow the viewer to adjust the intensity of the movements. If I had my druthers, I wish Godzilla the Ride would have allowed for the same, just so anyone could enjoy the show—but this probably sounds like extreme nitpicking. In my mind, though, I keep thinking these days of people who have some disability and can’t ride—I wish they had an option for enjoying the experience minus the more dangerous bits.
The other aspect of the ride which I didn’t really like so much on the day I went was the spraying mist. The mist was added for the sake of immersion and fun, and water is often a part of amusement park rides; it was a part of the USJ Godzilla rides, too, and actually some of my favorite parts of those rides incorporated water, such as when the jet you are flying loses its cockpit windshield in Godzilla the Real, or when the observation drone smashes through a building and tips over a drinking station inside an office building in Godzilla vs. Evangelion the ride. With Godzilla the Ride, the misting happens when King Ghidorah or Godzilla roars, and when King Ghidorah’s head gets smashed. The longest misting takes place during an extended triumphant roar from the Big G. And it IS fun and amusing and all, but…
It was cold when I went, so… I mean, that’s all. It just wasn’t very fun to feel cold and wet after exiting the building. It would’ve been fine on a warm or hot day.
Note: If you have a wallet with a chain, detach it and stow it in your bag under the seat. The second time I rode Godzilla the Ride, the chain got caught in the moving chairs and it snapped the chain. I told the staff about it—not complaining, but I just told them maybe they should be on the lookout for anyone with wallet chains. They were very apologetic.
Walking Around the Rest of Seibuen Park
When I went to the park, they were also handing out a Seibuen newspaper with a front page full of articles about Godzilla the Ride. I was intrigued by this newspaper—Godzilla the Real at USJ did something similar back in the day, and it was fun seeing another park working with the same basic idea. However, the articles were really uninteresting. I was hoping that they would give some backstory, mention Dr. Yamane, that sort of thing, but they are barebones. They don’t go into the origins of the monsters, and one of the articles is just this sort of rant comparing KG with Orochi wherein the writer hopes for the appearance of some kind of hero to save them. It’s pretty dumb.
As for the rest of Seibuen, the park is surprisingly sparse of interesting rides. It has the sorts of rides I would expect to find at a carnival—things like the previously mentioned Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round and a slow-moving train that goes around a small track, and another slow-moving train that goes around the park, or a ride where you go up high and I guess catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. I didn’t try any of them as I just didn’t find them compelling. I guess they are kind of old-timey, but they are also undeniably boring.
Finally, a word about the Seibuen money system. Inside the park you are supposed to purchase Seibuen Yen, which are paper dollars with Osamu Tezuka characters on them, and come in denominations like 100 Seibuen yen and so on. You need them to purchase meals, snacks, shirts, toys, souvenirs… It’s incredibly annoying. I was seriously considering buying the Godzilla action figures, but I gave up trying to calculate the fricking Seibuen dollars. It IS true that if you grab too much stuff and don’t have enough Seibuen cash, you can make up the difference with your credit card, but the extra level of frustration dealing with the fake currency and trying to figure out how much things cost feels manipulative and incredibly obnoxious. I almost certainly would’ve spent more if I could just have used my normal money.
That said, there are some very charming aspects to the park. The retro road is truly fun to visit, especially with the enthusiastic staff breaking into song and dance numbers, and I liked the chance to buy old-timey snacks, with a particular highlight being the puffed rice—you get to see them make the stuff (there is an explosion involved), and, again, the staff provides extra entertainment value by explaining the history of rice puffs and interacting with the crowds. Nevertheless, even in the old-timey section of the park, I had to deal with the stupid Seibuen yen, and even with the reduced crowds during covid, there were lines for the very few restaurants available.
Godzilla the Ride is fantastic fun if you can get out to see it, with great special effects and a truly exciting and wonderfully fun ride and feel. The park itself is horrifically discriminatory against people with tattoos, has tons of boring rides, and a truly irritating fake money system, but also includes retro stylings and staff who seem to really care about giving visitors a quality experience. I really hesitate to recommend the place overall, but I am still really glad I could go.