Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lost Imagineering: Meet the World

It was very disappointing when Meet the World never materialized as part of the Japan pavilion in 1982 as originally planned. Developed simultaneously for both EPCOT and Tokyo Disneyland, it was an extensive multimedia presentation that combined live action and animated films with audio animatronics figures. The 1982 Abrams book Walt Disney's EPCOT provided the following detailed description of Meet the World:

Inside the castle, the audience is seated in a rotating carousel theater, which will revolve in front of four stages, each presenting a chapter of the story of Japan.

The first chapter traces the volcanic origin of the islands. Then, in the company of two Japanese children and an animated magical crane (symbol of good health and long life), we explore the early history of the inhabitants of the islands.

Stage II deals with Japan's first emissaries to a foreign country—a splendid scene in Imperial China. Much of China's culture was absorbed and subsequently adapted to distinctive Japanese forms. A new foreign influence arrives with the epochal visit from Portuguese traders, who introduce the Japanese to firearms. This chapter ends with the closing of the country to almost all foreign visitors.

In Stage III, Japan, in self-imposed isolation,develops artistically and intellectually. Here we are introduced to Yaji and Kita, guards in the family of a powerful Shogun in the Edo period, whose story is a Japanese classic. But in the Disney version they are a couple of amusing characters. Enter Commodore Perry and his great Black Ships. His visit gives rise to heated debate between Japan's isolationists and expansionists.

The scene ends with the cataclysmic expansionism of the 1940s, but Stage IV demonstrates,
amply and ably, the rehabilitation, stabilization, and outreach of a modern, caring people, at once sophisticated and traditional, whose influence now extends far beyond the shores of their islands.

The show ends with the children and the crane waving farewell from the gondola of a balloon. But we can return to Japan, at least for a moment, after we leave the theater: it is there all around us, and our appreciation will be heightened after what we have just seen.

Meet the World was ultimately realized as an attraction at Tokyo Disneyland, but its EPCOT Center counterpart sadly never found a home at World Showcase.


Anonymous said...

I read about this attraction in Aviad Raz's wonderful book on Disneyworld in Japan, "Riding the Black Ship." I always thought an anthropomorphic crane would be a good mascot for Japan, ala the 3 caballeros' "bird mascots," and I drew a sketch for it myself...