California 2011: Six Flags Magic Mountain

The trip had been all about me so when it came to Ethan’s choice another theme park was on the cards though a more exhilerating one than the previous days trip to the calmer rides at Universal Studios. We left our hostel in L.A. behind at 7.30am and surprised ourselves by how quickly we reached our destination. As the park didn’t open till 10.30am we even had to kill a bit of time beforehand. Once inside we picked up our Premium VIP flash-passes (or whatever they were called) which weren’t ‘front-of-the-line’ passes but supposedly reduced our waiting time for each ride by 90%. Of course we had to pay through-the-nose for such privilege but time is money I guess. Ethan was given some kind of gadget which you use to reserve your next ride and then it beeps back saying when its available which was almost always within seconds due to it not being the most busy of days. This pass also didn’t include the new ‘Green Lantern’ spinning coaster ride but they said you could upgrade to include it for $15 which we did but then to our disgust we found out we could only fast-track our way through the queues on this ride once which they never mentioned in their spiel.


Our passes also allowed us to go on the same ride twice in succession but we soon realised that this wasn’t such a good thing as riding consecutively without much pause for breath makes you feel a bit sick. It was also a pain in the arse as we had to go through the confrontation with people who came to get on the ride to see we hadn’t moved which bemused them as they probably wasn’t aware of this special rule for us.

We went on many thrilling coaster rides with very little waiting as flashpass holders enter the ride by a different entrance each time which is basically the exit for everyone else! My favourite one had to be ‘Tatsu’ which is the worlds tallest, longest and fastest flying coaster according to their pamphlet. This was unique as you sat with your feet dangling before they rotated the seats so you were in a doggy-like position and thats the way we were whizzed around the coaster.

The park is notable for including a ride called ‘X2’ which is exactly the same as ‘eejanaika’ at Fujiku Highlands in Japan (the only two places in the world to have such a ride) which we both rode on when we visited that park in 2006 and 2008. Magic Mountain has actually appeared in several productions (usually representing a park other than itself) such as Knight Rider, Wonderwoman, Beverly Hills 90210 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I didn’t take my camera but I got Ethan to use his iPhone to take a couple of Batman-related photos which I wanted including the Batmobile below right.


I don’t know why for sure but we both left the park not totally satisfied. Maybe it was because we didn’t have to build up anticipation for any rides or more likely it was to do with the money we had splashed out on the premium pass (a lesser pass would have been sufficient enough given the amount of people in the park that day) which we didn’t feel was totally worth it.

USA Filming Locations: Back To The Future (1985)

Los Angeles plays host to many of the locations from ‘Back To The Future’ which starts off at Doctor Emmett Brown’s workshop where all the clocks go off 25 minutes early meaning Marty is late for school. What follows was an inspiration for me as a child as I took up skateboarding though being towed on the back of vehicles didn’t happen too often! The workshop (left) and the Burger King (right) next to it which Marty skateboards past are at 535 N. Victory Boulevard in Burbank and the former, which was a temporary facade, can be made-out thanks to a diagonal stripe on the car park.


The skateboard route continue through Courthouse Square at Universal Studios Hollywood and finishes at Whittier High School at 12417 E. Philadelphia Street in Whittier. This was of course used as Hill Valley High School and appears on screen a few times during the film.


Having failed his audition for ‘Battle of the Bands’ Marty skateboards down his home street past going through the famous Lyon Estate signs which by luck I saw at Universal Studios due to the failure of our tram which lead to a slight detour. The street in the picture is Sandusky Avenue (left) but in reality Marty’s home (right) is a few streets away. The address for his home is 9303 Roslyndale Avenue in Arieta and is private property.


Marty agrees to meet the Doc at Twin Pines Mall (left) at 1.15am and the DeLorean time-machine is introduced to him. This was filmed at Puente Hills Mall (right) at 1600 Asuza Avenue though sadly the JCPenney store has been replaced by a coat factory one. Whilst snapping away a cop wound down his window and said “Back to the future?” to which I replied “Of course” before he started going on about some event to mark the films 25th anniversary last year. This location was the furthest out of the way for myself and Ethan but I felt it had to be seen as it played such an important part by way of being where Marty escapes from the hostile Libyan terrorists by driving at 88mph resulting in him being transported back to 1955.


On his entrance to 1955 Marty crashed into a barn and soon after that he discovers his 1985 street being built. All that exists is the “Lyon Estates” gates (left) and across the road from them is a sign saying its 2 miles to Hill Valley where the all-important clock tower is. The gates are at Universal Studios but the clock tower (right) was damaged in a fire a few years ago and is no more but below is a photo I took of it back in 2002.


Having met George (his father) Marty follows him and finds him up a tree (left) being a peeping Tom. The person he is spying on is his future wife Lorraine who is of course Marty’s mother. That house is at 1727 Bushnell Avenue in South Pasadena while George’s house (right) is a few doors down the road at 1711 Bushnell Avenue.   

Marty later tracks down the Doc who lives at The Gamble House (of Proctor & Gamble fame) which is a Japanese-influenced wood shingle house at 4 Westmoreland Place in Pasadena.


The film ends back on Marty’s street at Roslyndale Avenue where the Doc arrives from 2015 and utters the classic line to Jennifer and Marty “Roads. Where we’re going we don’t need roads!”. With that, the three of them shoot off into future (and the sequel film!) bringing my all-time favourite film to an end.


Bonus: Of course many of the above locations also featured in the two sequels ‘Back To The Future Part II’ and ‘Back To The Future Part III’. The tunnel below can be seen in the second film and is very close to Griffith Observatory (of ‘Terminator’ fame) in Griffith Park and is where Marty recovers the Sports Almanac from Biff on his hoverboard.


Many thanks to the following sites: seeing-stars and movie-locations

Los Angeles Filming Locations: Universal Studios Special

As mentioned in the prelude I did go to Universal Studios in 2002 (I also went to the one in Osaka in 2005) but I wanted to return as of course things do change. On my birthday (8/8) myself and Ethan both re-vistited the studios amid sweltering heat. We went to the lower lot first and The Mummy ride was an unexpected thrill which we immediately rode again. The Jurassic Park ride followed which saw us get a good soaking from the squirting dinosaurs and the rides culmination which saw us take a “treacherous plunge straight down an 84ft vertical drop waterfall.” The NBC Universal experience was a minor pit-stop but I was delighted to see the red mini which was used in ‘The Bourne Identity’ in 2002.


Having ascended back to the upper lot (via stairs for exercise) I was disappointed that the ‘Back To The Future Ride’ was no more but equally interested to go on its replacement; ‘The Simpsons Ride’ which was a thrilling virtual rollercoaster ride. As a fan of that show I was also excited to see reconstructions of Comic-Book guy’s shop and the Kwik-E-Mart.


After a long, long wait in burning sunshine we took the Studio Tour which lasted longer than normal as there was some kind of problem with our train so we had to wait for a replacement one to be brought to where we had halted. After that we saw sets from ‘Jaws’ (below left), ‘Psycho’ (lower left), ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ (lower right), ‘Desperate Housewives’ (below middle right), ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift’ (below middle left), ‘The Mummy’ and the huge outdoor airplane crash set built for ‘War of the Worlds’ (below right).


Other parts of the studio tour included a flash flood, an 8.3 earthquake, an old west town (including a saloon and sheriff station) and King Kong 360 3-D which is the world’s largest 3-D experience and having put on our special glasses was good fun and probably the best example of 3-D I have witnessed. That’s not saying too much though as I am generally not a fan of the recent rise in films being made in 3-D.

I was so tired that I couldn’t even stay awake in the Shrek 4-D ride but managed to recover in time for our final attraction which was the Terminator 2: 3-D ride. As much as I enjoyed experiencing this again it probably is a bit outdated now given the time that’s lapsed since its incarnation as well as the aforementioned rise of the 3-D format in recent years. There was just enough time for a quick photo-stop or two on the way out at the book shop from Notting Hill and the Universal Studios globe at the entrance both of which I was photographed at nine years earlier.


Los Angeles Filming Locations: Terminator

Arnold Schwarzenegger first appears in ‘The Terminator’ (1984) at Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park on his mission to terminate Sarah Connor. This place was also used in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’, ‘Dragnet’, ‘Earth Girls Are Easy’, ‘The House On Haunted Hill’, ‘LA Confidential’ and ‘Charlies Angels: Full Throttle’. Unlike the cyborg sent back from 2029 myself and Ethan were clothed and actually saw it as a “nice night for a walk”. It was here that Arnie’s character duffs up a trio of punks as he wants their clothes. He also rips the heart out of one of them.


The restaurant where Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) works is Carrows Restaurant at 815 South Fremont Avenue in Pasadena. It was ‘Big Buns’ in the film and I only just noticed this place by chance in passing as we made our way round many locations.


The place where John Connor is conceived is the very run-down Tiki Motel at 7301 Santa Fe Avenue, Huntington Park. This was actually our first port of call and provided many match-ups in terms of the check-in window, the dog barking as the terminator arrives and busts through room 9 and fires his gun before giving chase to Sarah and Kyle Reese. Amazingly the room where it all happened was open and I couldn’t resist poking my head in (well I did a bit more than that actually!) and seeing what was perhaps the most pivotal moment in the Terminator franchise.


We only did one location from ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ (1991) but it was an exciting one (well it was in the movie anyway!) and was where the very exciting chase took place with the T-1000 hot on the heels of John Connor. It’s a case of 18-wheel truck versus motorbike at the junction of Plummer and Hayvernhurst (the latter of which can be seen written on the bridge in that scene).


‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ (2003) may not be so universally loved but I’m still a fan of it and in this one we see the female terminator drive through Jim’s Burgers at 1901 E. 1st Street and shoot one of her victims at the drive-thru window. According to this site “the director added the colourful cut-outs and the atomic touches.”


The cemetry where the T-101 (Schwarzenegger) shows John Connor his mother’s coffin, which is full of weapons, is Rose Hills Memorial Park at 3888 Workman Mill Road in Whittier. It should be noted that the ensuing car chase when the Terminatrix arrives was filmed down in Long Beach. This place was huge and weirdly enough was full of families playing around and treating the place as if it was a park which is a bit un-nerving.


Not really a location but I need to include it somewhere so below is the entrance to the ‘Terminator 2: 3D’ attraction at Universal Studios which is still good though probably a bit outdated now given the growing popularity of the 3D format in the last couple of years. Schwarzenegger’s motorcycle is outside this ride which had a huge line but thankfully I got my photo taken on it nine years ago so I include that below instead.


Many thanks go to the following sites: thearnoldfans and onthesetofterminator

California Filming Locations: Prelude

Over the last three and a half years or so I’ve been tracking down the shooting locations from a wide range of films and while I’m fairly content with what I’ve done in Tunisia, Italy, Japan, Thailand, England and so on I feel that there is a big hole in my research. My five favourite movie franchises are James Bond, Star Wars, Terminator, Karate Kid and Back to the Future. I’ve managed to cover the first two to a great extent but the latter three have been pretty much untouched. Actually, thats not quite true as I did go to Universal Studio’s back in May 2002 at the end of my around-the-world trip. Whilst there I saw the clock-tower from Hill Valley (below) in the Back to the Future trilogy. Anyway, I’d love to see some of that films non-studio locations of which quite a few are dotted around L.A. as are some from the Terminator films. Hopefully that will then bring about a bit of closure to my filming locations fascination. Then again, maybe it won’t!!


I will be meeting my number one American mate Ethan (who I went on many snowboarding and theme park trips with when he lived in Japan) in LA where we will be based for a few days before we head on up to Death Valley via rent-a-car and then onto Las Vegas. A couple of nights there and then we are flying down to El Paso in Texas (right on the border of New Mexico and actual Mexico itself) which is where Ethan lives with his wife Kaori and their daughter.

Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘The Karate Kid Part II’ (1986)

This sequel starts exactly where the original one finishes including an overly long re-cap of the first film. There is debate around whether the first part of this movie was made at the same time as the original or if it was newly made. After that we see Miyagi’s amazingly beautiful garden and after receiving a letter from his family about his father being seriously ill he and Daniel-san are off to the main island of Okinawa in the south-west of Japan. However, it wasn’t really Okinawa but Oahu in Hawaii which filled in more cheaply. These reviews are categorized as being ‘set’ in Japan to allow for the inclusion of films like this!

I mentioned years ago in a pre-Okinawa trip post that this film gave me my first glimpse into Japanese life. One memorable feature of watching this at my mates house as a kid was the den-den daiko (hand-drum) which I had to wait nearly 20 years to get my hands on! On top of that there’s also tea ceremony and toro nagashi (floating lanterns) and we really get an insight into the charcters we fell in love with in the first film. Daniel’s love interest comes in the form of Kumiko; a Japanese dancer hanging around the place. I’d like to be able to say something profound about her being the first asian girl to tickle my fancy but the reality is that at that age I showed very little interest in any females!

Inevitably the story isn’t as good as the first and its premise is basically that this time Daniel-san is now fighting for his life rather than just for a Championship. As often happens with Hollywood productions we have the ridiculous scenario where two Japanese people, in this case Miyagi and his brother, speak to each other in English. As far as I know this only happens in an English classroom…..if you’re lucky!


Kung-Fu Panda Kids Party

The release of ‘Kung-Fu Panda 2’ into cinema’s this Summer meant I wanted to seize the chance to do another Kung-Fu Panda lesson following my previous efforts in 2009 and 2010. However, this time it was different as I proposed the idea of doing an actual school event rather than just doing it in selected lessons. Luckily the owner of Hibarigaoka school was wanting to do some kind of kids event and so my dream ending up becoming reality on Sunday 31st July. Apart from the idea and being consulted on activities, crafts and games I took a back seat this time and no that doesn’t mean I was lazy! My friend and colleague Lai-Keun took on the mantle of organising it and produced a wealth of stuff such as masks, board games, cut-outs, extra flashcards, craft activities and so on.

Basically it was a teaching partnership for two classes of 13 each with the first group being the 3-6 year olds and the other group the 6-12 year olds. There were a few cry-babies in the first group but overall I think both group lessons went very well. Whilst there was some drilling of the character animals (as well as station games) and a few language points the main priority was to create more of a party atmosphere with a lot of fun games and activities which Lai-Keun came up with including:

‘Make a Lantern’ – the young kids basically coloured in the lantern and a few folds later it was done. Add a handle using double sided sticky tape and its finished.


‘Make a Pencil Topper’ – the older kids group basically just cut and folded along the lines of a character topper and used the adhesive tape on it (if they didn’t cut that bit off by mistake which a few did!). Stick a pencil through the hole and its job done.

‘Pin the ears on Po’ – students wear a blindfold and try to stick the ears on the panda.


‘Ninja star throwing’ – students have a star each and take turns to throw it into a box. The first team to get them all in wins.

‘Feed Po’ – two teams of students race to feed the panda M&M’s one at a time using a plastic spoon.


‘Magnetic jigsaw’ – two teams race to complete and put together a magnetic jigsaw piece by piece whilst wearing a puppet on their hands which is passed between team members


‘Pass the parcel’ – self explanatory and who would have thought that every student ended up with a prize?! What chance of the ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ music never stopping on the same student!!

‘Punch & Kick the balloon’ – the teacher throws the balloon to the student telling them to either punch or kick it. Simple but good fun.

‘Hit the pinata’ –  the grand finale of each class where students basically use a plastic baseball bat to smack the sh*t out of a tiger pinata until it breaks and releases a load of candy for them to grab and fight over!


The lessons lasted 90 minutes each including a snack and drinks break halfway through and each student left with a goody bag and a smiling face. From a personal point of view I hope that some of them go and see the new film when it finally comes out in Japan on August 19th. Overall, it was a tiring days work (well, half a day anyway!) but great fun and nice to do something different with the ‘Kung Fu Panda’ format I’ve been covering in recent years. I can’t thank Lai-Keun enough for her efforts as well as those of the owner and receptionist (Junko and Yasuko) who all contributed far more than I did to make the party run smoothly. I also now have a wealth of additional materials to use in future lessons should I wish or for when/if ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ is made.