Way back in March of 2021, I had heard rumblings of a Godzilla attraction installed at the indoor amusement park Joypolis (ジョイポリス). I didn’t know really anything about Joypolis at the time, despite increasingly becoming a connoisseur of Japanese theme parks. I didn’t really know what the Godzilla attraction really was, other than it was an “XR” thing. I just knew I wanted to check it out, if possible, and March would be my last chance to go. It was a real last-minute decision, on March 4th, with a sense of urgency to make the most of every day, since I would be moving soon, and the future just seemed so uncertain. The attraction would be featured at the Tokyo location only from October 1st, 2020, until May 31st, 2021, and I wouldn’t be getting any more chances to go after my move.
Turns out, Joypolis is a chain of amusement parks originally created by Sega. There used to be quite a few branches around Japan, but now there is just the one in Odaiba, Tokyo, and a couple over in mainland China. As with many amusement parks in Japan, there are two versions for the admission tickets; you can get a “passport ticket,” which includes the price of the rides, or just an admission ticket, and then pay for the individual rides when you choose to try them out. There are additional pricing options for children vs. adults, and a night passport for visitors who come after four pm (which I did). So a normal passport ticket costs 4500 yen, and a night passport costs 3500 yen. That’s what I paid, which was a mistake in my case—I will get into why later.
Experiencing Tokyo Godzilla Museum
The Tokyo Godzilla Museum (トーキョーゴジラミュージアム) attraction was the first one I tried, once I found out that the attractions ALSO are staggered as to when they close. Everything closes at 7 pm, but some close earlier—I believe Godzilla ended at six. That didn’t give me a lot of time to orient myself and find the attraction and try it out.
Now, the Tokyo Godzilla Museum is probably not what most amusement park attendees would expect. Some articles were written in English back when the attraction was released, such as from TimeOut and Japan Top News, as well as Japan Travel by Navitime—the latter of which at least seems to have been written by someone who experienced the attraction. I am going to spoil the whole thing below, but since the attraction is no longer available, I doubt anyone is going to mind.
The Tokyo Godzilla Museum is something of a misnomer; it wasn’t really a museum like, say, the small museum at Nijigen no Mori on Awaji Island is a museum. There weren’t displays and artifacts or props and replicas from the movies or costumes and the like. Instead, the Tokyo Godzilla Museum was labeled as an XR or extended reality experience. Extended reality is a term that covers things like VR (virtual reality, such as Godzilla VR, which I already reviewed) and AR (augmented reality, such as the NamjaTown attraction I also reviewed), and this “museum” is of the latter variety—attendees put on headsets (apparently supplied by Docomo, a Japanese phone company) and view a small model city that has several broken buildings. (I will say, including a model city IS similar to several of the museum or exhibitions I have seen with Godzilla-related material in them, such as the Tokusatsu Archives or the Yasuyuki Inoue exhibit in Sasebo).
After attendees put on the headset and adjust it to make sure it fits, unlike with VR which creates an entire graphic world and you can’t see the outside world, with the AR headset, you can still see just about everything around you—only with additional graphical embellishments. In this case, right after putting on the set, viewers see a green mesh overlay on the model buildings (which were made to look partially destroyed), and the staff asks to make sure everything was lining up. I remember thinking at the time that things looked mostly okay, but I wasn’t quite sure if everything was hunky dory—it was hard to determine whether or not the mesh overlays were lined up correctly over the buildings until I had actually experienced the attraction.
Anyway, the action starts up, and we hear classic Akira Ifukube music, and the green wireframes that matched up with the buildings then become solid (the texture maps showing walls and windows was applied) around or attached to the model buildings so that the models made to look partially destroyed now looked complete. Godzilla appears and blasts some (but not all) of the buildings, which break apart with the magic of the augmented reality. Then, suddenly, Shin Ghidorah (last seen in the Universal Studios Japan attraction/short film, Godzilla vs. Evangelion the Real 4D) appears from the sky. Shin Ghidorah uses his gravity beams to levitate broken halves of several of the remaining buildings, and also attacks Shin Godzilla, soon wrapping around the monster king. Godzilla uses his back blast atomic rays to defeat the tri-headed terror. After defeating his foe, Godzilla turns to one of the buildings and smashes through the roof. Just as he does so, the ceiling of the room in which the attendees are watching bursts open, and Godzilla’s massive head peeks down inside and (if I remember correctly) gets ready to blast everything to smithereens.
At this point, the attraction ends. Attendees are encouraged to take pictures of the model city and accoutrements of the attraction, such as a Godzilla model. The end.
Reflecting on the XR Experience
In some ways, the Tokyo Godzilla Museum provides a unique and exciting experience. The use of Ifukube’s iconic themes puts customers in a great mood for a kaiju attack. Unlike other model cities which often feature in exhibits and museums and may be combined with photo opportunities wherein attendees can pose like a giant monster or view Godzilla costumes combined with trashed cityscapes, the AR elements provide a unique and amusing experience. I really liked that Shin Ghidorah made a comeback since he was one of the best parts of USJ’s Godzilla vs. Evangelion film. The climax, with Godzilla appearing to smash through the ceiling of Joypolis, is an appropriately exciting crescendo, suitably startling and unexpected. Sure, having Godzilla show up at the amusement park is not unprecedented or new—Godzilla the Real 4D built Godzilla’s appearance at USJ as part of the storyline, and Nijigen no Mori took that premise even further. Still, I like the conclusion, and it made me smile.
The attraction, however, has some really big flaws. The city model itself, while very cool, is also kind of small—much smaller than any of the other model cities I have seen at other exhibits and attractions. At other attractions, the model cityscapes are generally made to match the size of a human in a suit, and so they have to be pretty large. This model is much smaller, with the Godzilla CGI that appears perhaps being the size of a large cat. The Magic Leap technology that maps the green meshes over the model also did not match well, and so the CGI sections of the busted-up buildings did not perfectly jive with the model halves. Worse, the animation of Godzilla and Ghidorah is jerky and unconvincing, appearing to skip frames. The entire fight, too, felt like an abbreviated and simplified version of the fight from Godzilla vs. Evangelion minus the Evas and with worse animation. Finally, when Godzilla smashes through the ceiling, as cool as it is, the blown-up model showcases the flaws in the CGI. It looked worse than the Godzilla VR model (I thought), with more obvious polygons and lower quality textures—perhaps reflecting the limitations of the XR technology at the time.
Outside of the Tokyo Godzilla Museum experience itself, Joypolis also had ZERO original Godzilla-related goods to purchase, which floored me. Almost every Godzilla exhibit and attraction I have ever visited—from the Godzilla Exam, to the Godzilla escape room, to Tokusatsu no DNA, to the Yasuyuki Inoue exhibit in Sasebo, to the Godzilla Festivals each year on November 3—all of them had original goods related to the event. Granted that Joypolis had Godzilla goods for sale, but nothing original, nothing branded Tokyo Godzilla Museum. I just bought almost everything of what they had, which included a tin mug and a Godzilla-themed raincoat, which has proven useful for rainy days (which are frequent in Japan).
I mentioned earlier that I would explain why purchasing the passport had been a mistake when visiting Joypolis that day. Part of the reason was just that so many rides closed early, and I only had a window of a few hours to enjoy what I could. The bigger reason, though, was that even what seemed the mildest rides that featured, say, an enhanced version of the latest House of the Dead arcade game, had warnings that folks who had a heart condition could not participate. Given that I had had my heart attack a scant few months previous, I was hesitant to try out anything that might compromise my health, even though I really, really, really wanted to try the Attack on Titan ride. I ended up wandering around just looking for something, anything I could do that didn’t have a heart warning message, and so visited things like the Murder Lodge wherein I sat in a scary cabin and was menaced by sound effects and lighting, or I found a free attraction in which I could add my face to a CGI manatee in a fake aquarium, or a timed puzzle-solving game.
Still, in the end, the Tokyo Godzilla Museum provided a smaller, quaint, and unique event for fans of the monster king. It combined CGI with practical effects in an unusual and unique way, and gave attendees a taste of what it might be like to have Godzilla attacking a building in which YOU are hanging out—without any of the danger. With the passage of the torch from traditional effects techniques to increasingly CGI-heavy film experiences, there is a certain appropriateness to that transition, and I do continue to feel so privileged that I can attend so many of these unique, fun kaiju events while I live on this earth.