Friday, December 15, 2006

Movie Matome 15/12/06

Following on from yesterday's bit about Toho, the studio have also unveiled their 21-film lineup for 2007. Of that number, seven are co-productions with Fuji TV, five are with Nihon TV, TBS and Asahi have three each, and TV Tokyo has two. (source: eiga.com)

"The Mamiya Brothers" and "Shining Boy & Little Randy" actress Tokiwa Takako has a new film opening on January 20th entitled "Fudeko: Sono Ai - Tenshi no Piano". Directed by Yamada Hisako and co-starring Ichikawa Emiya, Ogura Ichiro and Watanabe Azusa, it's a biopic of education pioneer Ishii Fudeko that focuses on her efforts to establish Takinogawa Gakuen, Japan's first ever facility for children with intellectual disabilities. (source: Nikkan Sports)

Cinema Cafe's report on yesterday's press conference announcing the production of Izutsu Kazuyuki's "Pacchigi 2: Love and Peace" (previously covered here) has pictures of stars Isaka Shunya, Nishijima Hidetoshi, Nakamura Yuri, Fujii Takashi, and the director himself. The sequel's setting switches from Kyoto in 1968 to Tokyo in 1974, with its sights set on the discrimination and adversity posed by the adult world instead of the high school love story running through the original. Filming began in late October and is still going with a 300-strong cast, over 5,000 extras, and numerous Korean actors. The first film was shown on roughly 100 screens in Japan plus Cine Quanon's own cinema in South Korea, but this time CQN and co-distributors Showbox are working towards a simultaneous release in Japan and South Korea for May next year on double the amount of screens in Japan and potentially 600 in South Korea. (additional sources: Nikkan Sports, Sanspo)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Movie Matome 14/12/06

A great quote from Miike Takashi about his upcoming "Sukiyaki Western: Jango Django" (previously covered here and here): "Japanese films these days aren't willing to take risks. Some try to copy a hit formula, others are based on bestsellers and so on. It's boring to keep doing the same thing, so we wanted to try our hand at something new. Plus, this cast has the potential to blow all that other stuff away." And he may very well be right, with supporting players of the calibre of Kagawa Teruyuki, Ishibashi Takaaki, Matsushige Yutaka, Shiomi Sansei, Ishibashi Renji, Sakai Masato, Tanaka Yoji, Oguri Shun and Nishida Toshiyuki, not to mention a script by Miike regular Nakamura Masa. (source: Cinematopics)

A few additions and clarifications to yesterday's story on the new Nagasawa Masami pic: the 19-year-old plays a supermodel named Takigawa Karin who tries to reconnect with her childhood love after being diagnosed with an illness. Hirakawa Yuichi will be making his feature film directorial debut, having previously worked with Nagasawa on the recent TV remake of "Sailor Suit and Machine Gun" as well as Yamada Takayuki on "Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World". Filming takes place from January 7th through to late February, and Toho are distributing.

Speaking of Toho, the period from January to November this year saw the company register its biggest ever year at the box office. Of the 27 films it released, 15 made over 1 billion yen with Miyazaki Goro's "Tales from Earthsea" and its haul of ï¿¥7,650,000,000 topping the list. This marks the third year in a row that Toho has generated box office revenue exceeding 50 billion yen. (sources: Sports Hochi, Sanspo, Daily Sports)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Movie Matome 13/12/06

Nagasawa Masami has signed on for yet another junai (pure love) movie, this time alongside Yamada Takayuki and Tsukamoto Takashi. Entitled "Sono Toki wa Kare ni Yoroshiku" (lit. "Say Hi When You See Him"), it's based on a novel by "Be With You" author Ichikawa Takuji about the manager of a small tropical fish shop and a beautiful girl who starts working there part time. Expect a massive marketing blitz in the leadup to its release in summer next year. (source: Nikkan Sports)

Tsumabuki incites divine wrath

Tsumabuki Satoshi takes the lead in an offbeat period film based on Asada Jiro's novel "Tsukigami", adapted for the screen by the venerable team of director Furuhata Yasuo ("Railroad Man", "The Firefly") and cinematographer Kimura Daisaku.

Asada's other works adapted for film include "When the Last Sword is Drawn", "Failan" (which was made into a South Korean film starring Min-sik Choi and Cecilia Cheung), and the recent "Metro ni Notte" and "Tsubakiyama-Kacho no Nanokakan".

Tsumabuki plays a lowly but academically diligent warrior named Bessho Hikoshiro who finds himself unable to move up in the world due to the stifling caste system of the Bakumatsu era. After being expelled from the household into which he was adopted through marriage and separated from his wife and son, he moves in with his disapproving elder brother and his wife. He meets his old class rival Enomoto Takeaki, now a commander of a naval ship, and is later told by a kindly noodle shop owner that Enomoto's rise in social status came about after he prayed at a shrine in Mukojima. Stumbling home drunk one night, Hikoshiro falls down a riverbank and comes across a small run-down shrine which he is convinced is affiliated to the one in Mukojima. Pressing his hands together in prayer, he unwittingly invites the unwanted attentions of the gods of poverty, pestilence and death...

Nishida Toshiyuki plays god of poverty Iseya, Akai Hidekazu is god of pestilence Kuzuryu, and the 1200-year-old death god is embodied by 9-year-old Morisako Ei, better known as the live-action TV incarnation of venerable manga and anime character "Chibi Maruko-chan". Sato Ryuta also features. Sponichi has an early picture of Sato, Tsumabuki and Morisako in character here. Shot at Toei's studio in Uzumasa, Kyoto from late October through to late December, "Tsukigami" opens on June 23rd next year. (source: Sports Hochi)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Movie Matome 12/12/06

Osawa Takao is to play late pro-windsurfer Iijima Natsuki in a biopic tentatively titled "Tengoku de Kimi ni Aetara" (lit. "If I See You in Heaven"). Ito Misaki has been cast as his wife Hiroko, and Shinjo Takehiko ("Heavenly Forest") is lined up to direct. Iijima was the only Japanese to appear in the windsurfing world cup for eight consecutive years, but was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2002. Given six months to live in summer of 2004, he wrote his first novel "Tengoku de Kimi ni Aetara" about his experiences battling cancer, as well as several other published works before his death at the age of 38 in February 2006. Filming begins next March, and a release is scheduled for next autumn. (source: Sanspo)

"Memories of Matsuko" star Nakatani Miki headlines an adaptation of Yamamoto Ichiriki's Naoki Award-winning novel "Akane Sora". It tells the tale of Eikichi and Ofumi, two humble tofu makers who open their own shop in a tenement rowhouse. Hamamoto Masaki directs, and cast members include Uchino Masaaki, Nakamura Baijaku, Katsumura Masanobu, Izumiya Shigeru, Ishibashi Renji and Iwashita Shima. Renowned filmmaker Shinoda Masahiro, retired since 2003, initiated the project and spent two years writing the screenplay with his former assistant director Hamamoto. Kadokawa Herald plan to release the film in spring 2007.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Movie Matome 9/12/06

"Umizaru" director Hasumi Eiichiro's next movie is an ensemble youth drama about mogul skiing entitled "Giniro no Shizun" (lit. "Silver Season"), starring Eita, Tanaka Rena and Tamayama Tetsuji. Using an original screenplay by "A Song to the Sun" (Taiyo no Uta) scribe Bando Kenji, the story follows a former national mogul skiing representative who loses his mojo after an injury, but regains it with the help of his friends and a girl he meets on the slopes. Filming takes place at the Hakuba skifields in Nagano from next January, and the cast and crew will be living on set for 3-4 months. A special mogul course and snow chapel are being made for the shoot, including an indoor set built within a local gymnasium, with the full cooperation of Hakuba Village. Distributor Toho has scheduled a release for winter 2007. (sources: Sanspo, Nikkan Sports, Cinema Today)

Watanabe Ken has won this year's SARVH (Society for Administration of Remuneration for Video) award from the Japan Film Makers Association for executive producing "Memories of Tomorrow" (Ashita no Kioku), in which he also starred alongside Higuchi Kanako. In the JMFA's Shindo Kaneto awards, Makino Masahiro (better known as actor Tsugawa Masahiko) garnered the gold for directing "A Hardest Night" (Nezu no Ban), while Ogigami Naoko picked up the silver as best newcomer for "Kamome Diner" (Kamome Shokudo). (source: Nikkan Sports)

Five-part omnibus film "Life Can Be So Wonderful" (Sekai wa Tokidoki Utsukushii), screened at this year's Tokyo International Film Festival, stars Matsuda Ryuhei, his mum Matsuda Miyuki, Ichikawa Mikako, Katayama Hitomi, Asami Reina, and Emoto Akira. It's the debut feature of director Minorikawa Osamu, who filmed the first part with Matsuda Miyuki back in 2003 before completing the omnibus this year. The movie opens at Eurospace in Tokyo next spring. (source: Cinematopics)

Model/actress Eikura Nana and Maki Daisuke from pop R&B group Exile are to play a student and teacher involved in an illicit romance in "Shibuya-ku Maruyama-cho". The title is taken from a district of Tokyo's Shibuya ward well known for its numerous love hotels. (source: Nikkan Sports)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Movie Matome 7/12/06

"Swing Girls" and "Kame wa Igai to Hayaku Oyogu" actress Ueno Juri (20) has released a photobook entitled "A Piacere", partially shot in Okinawa. (source: Nikkan Sports)

Add the Weinstein Company to the list of eager bidders for the remake rights to Tsukamoto Shinya's "Nightmare Detective" (Akumu Tantei). In addition, the film has been sold to distributors in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Italy, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. (source: Cinematopics)

Finally, make sure you watch this trailer to "Five Man Army", an exceptionally groovy-looking Italian western from 1969 starring the late great Tanba Tetsuro (pilfered from ScreenGrab).

Miike's yakuza pic wraps, Kimutaku in Fuji TV blockbuster

PS2 game "Ryu ga Gotoku 2" goes on sale today, and production on Miike Takashi's movie adaptation has wrapped. Although the game is restricted to ages 17 and up, the film targets all ages. It's scheduled for release in Japan on March 3rd next year, with South Korea following in summer and North America is also on the cards. Check out the source article for photos of Miike, Sega producer Nagoshi Toshihiro, star Kitamura Kazuki and other cast members at a reception party for the project. (source: +D Games)

Despite his long-held status as Japan's most popular male television actor, for the most part SMAP hearthrob Kimura Takuya (AKA Kimutaku) has been conspicuously absent from the silver screen. All that seems to be changing, with his current lead turn in Yamada Yoji's "Love and Honor" (Bushi no Ichibun), and now Fuji TV's film adaptation of their hit series "Hero." Pulling in an average rating of 30% when it screened in early 2001, the show starred Kimura as a former juvenile delinquent turned unconventional detective, and quickly became Fuji TV's highest rating drama series ever. Fuji's head of film production, mega producer Kameyama Chihiro, had originally considered making a film out of it 3 or 4 years ago, but when a one-off special aired in July this year registered a whopping 30.9% rating the Fuji bean counters began drooling for more. The script is still being written, and filming is scheduled to begin next March including a possible overseas location shoot. Suzuki Masayuki, director of fellow SMAP member Katori Shingo vehicle "Ninja Hattori-kun The Movie", takes the helm. Original cast members Matsu Takako, Otsuka Nene, Abe Hiroshi and Katsumura Masanobu are set to return, and big name guest stars are in the works. Expect something on the scale of the "Bayside Shakedown" films. A release is set for September 2007.(sources: Sanspo,Sports Hochi)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Movie Matome 6/12/06

Fuji TV's "Saiyuki" is inciting righteous indignation within China for its alleged mistreatment of the classic Chinese novel on which it is loosely based (known in English as "Journey to the West"). Media and internet denizens claim it takes too many liberties with the original work, such as the casting of a female actor in the traditionally male role of Tripitaka (Sanzo Hoshi). The high-rating 2005 TV adaptation, an update of a fondly remembered series from the late 1970s, was partly filmed in China and starred SMAP's Katori Shingo as Monkey (Songoku), comedian Uchimura Teruyoshi as Sandy (Sagojo) and perennial geek specialist Ito Takashi as Pigsy (Chohakkai). The trouble apparently began with the announcement of production on a movie version with the same cast to be shot on location in China (for a big summer release in Japan next year), which led a noted Chinese actor known for playing the role of Monkey to grumble about the Japanese versions' crimes against Chinese cultural pride in a newspaper article. A Fuji TV spokesperson stated they weren't aware of any such controversy and declined comment. (source: Sponichi)

Brad Pitt's production company Plan B, "The Ring" and "The Grudge" producer Roy Lee's Vertigo Entertainment, New Regency Pictures and 13 other companies have approached Movie-Eye, producers and distributors of Tsukamoto Shinya's "Nightmare Detective" (Akumu Tantei), with a view to purchasing the film's remake rights. Tsukamoto's latest tour de force was screened at the American Film Market in Santa Monica this past November, and the multi-talented filmmaker is reportedly keen to direct any eventual remake. "Akumu Tantei" opens in Japan next January. (source: Nikkan Sports)

Studio Ghibli made a defacto admission of plagiarism yesterday regarding the lyrics for "Teru no Uta", the haunting theme song for this year's "Tales from Earthsea" (Gedo Senki). Although director Miyazaki Goro had been listed as the sole author of the lyrics, a minor controversy subsequently arose after similarities to early 20th-century poet Hagiwara Sakutaro's "Kokoro" were pointed out. Miyazaki had previously claimed he had merely been influenced by Hagiwara's work, but at a concert by "Teru no Uta" singer Teshima Aoi at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo on November 5th a Ghibli spokesperson stated for the first time that the lyrics are directly inspired by "Kokoro". (source: Nikkan Sports)

At the premiere for horror film "Kuchisake Onna", TV personality Sato Eriko (better known to overseas audiences as "Cutie Honey") confirmed that she is romantically involved with top Kabuki performer and "Sea Without Exit" (Deguchi no Nai Umi) star Ichikawa Ebizo. The pair had been snapped around town by paparazzi, and decided to come clean to avoid further personal intrusions by the media. Ichikawa has a reputation as a bit of a womanizer and was even outed a few years ago as having secretly fathered an illegitimate child, but up until recently he had long been linked to another model-turned-thesp, Yonekura Ryoko. (source: Oricon)

Monday, November 20, 2006

The sun sets again on third street

Yamazaki Takashi's nostalgic smash hit from 2005, "Always: Sunset on Third Street" (Always: Sanchome no Yuhi, click on the link to see a preview image), is getting a sequel. Original cast members Yoshioka Hidetaka, Koyuki, Suga Kenta, Tsutsumi Shinichi, Yakushimaru Hiroko, Motai Masako, Miura Tomokazu and Horikita Maki are all set to return, as is director Yamazaki.

The story takes place four months after the events of the last movie. Chagawa (Yoshioka), still besotted with Hiromi (Koyuki) and living with orphan Junnosuke (Suga), becomes determined to take another tilt at winning the Akutagawa literary prize.

"At the time I was told there wouldn't be a second film, so [when talk of a sequel was raised] I wondered what the hell they were talking about (laughs)" said Yamazaki. "Since we're doing one now, I want to surpass the first film. I think the opening's going to be breathtaking."

Showa-era Tokyo will be recreated once again using a blend of sets and visual effects, with highlights including Nihonbashi Bridge, the newly opened Kodama bullet train, Tokyo Station and Haneda Airport.

The original "Always" raked in 3.5 billion yen at the box office and was seen by over 2.8 million people, and Toho have set themselves the modest goal of achieving 10 million admissions for the sequel. Cameras roll from next January, and a release is scheduled for November 2007. (source: Sports Hochi)

"Django", not Jango

Sanspo have more details on Miike's "Sukiyaki Western: Django" this morning, as well as a picture of the cast in costume.

It's a homage to one of Miike's favorite films, the 1966 Italian-Spanish co-production "Django" directed by Sergio Corbucci, mixed with the tale of the Genpei Wars. The Minamoto and Taira gangs face off in a town named Yuda, while a deadly gunman (Ito Hideaki) comes to the aid of the townsfolk.

Ito admitted his uncertainty about taking the role. "I love westerns, but as for English, twirling guns and riding horses... I didn't know what to do. But once I gave it a try it was fun, and now I'd like to do a sequel as well."

A Hollywood voice coach was brought in to give the cast two months of training, on top of their horse riding and gun handling lesssons. Shooting is currently underway at a 150 million yen outdoor set of the town, built near the base of Mt. Gassan in northern Yamagata's Tsuruoka City.

Miike travelled to the U.S. to ask Quentin Tarantino to appear in the film. "He's a guy who doesn't play by Hollywood rules, so I thought he'd suit this film. I was in his 'Hostel' too". The "Kill Bill" director will arrive in Japan later this month and film his part at a studio in Tokyo. He plays a mysterious dude by the name of Ringo who appears at the beginning of the movie and fights with an unnamed Japanese cast member, who plays the lover of a female assassin disguised as a town dweller, to be portrayed by Momoi Kaori. "In the States he's not acting anymore, but he said he'd take this film seriously and is preparing for the role."

Kitajima Saburo be singing an Enka version of the theme to "Django" in Japanese, which Miike thought would be ideal for presenting the film overseas.

Filming is set to wrap in early December, and the finished product should open in Japan next Autumn. (source: Sanspo)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Miike goes west, and maybe bonkers too

Production was announced today on Miike Takashi's latest, "Sukiyaki Uestan: Jango" (Sukiyaki Western: Jango) at the film's set in Tsuruoka, Yamagata. As the title suggests, it's a western, but naturally that's only the tip of the weirdberg: it's about the feuding Minamoto and Taira clans (who engaged in the Genpei Wars during the 1100s), will be shot entirely in English, and features an appearance by Quentin f%&king Tarantino.

The film stars Ito Hideaki (31), Sato Koichi, Kimura Yoshino, Momoi Kaori, Iseya Yusuke and Ando Masanobu, who all underwent two months of intensive language training to help them come to grips with their English dialogue. "We're going to try something we wouldn't normally do", said the quite possibly batshit director. "Real actors are generally hardcore masochists, and the tougher it gets the harder they work to battle through".

The only other morsel of available info is that Enka legend Kitajima Saburo is to sing the theme tune. Sabu-chan! More insanity as it comes to hand. (source: Nikkan Sports)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Tanaka Rena takes the lead

Shochiku's series of heartstring-yanking canine pictures continues with "Inu to Watashi no Ju no Yakusoku" (literally something like "Ten Promises Between Me and My Dog"), starring Tanaka Rena (26) and directed by studio stalwart Motoki Katsuhide.

Its original screenplay was inspired by "The Ten Commandments of Dog Ownership", a popular list of precepts for pet ownership by an anonymous author written from the perspective of a dog addressing its master.

A golden retriever is adopted by the family of 6th grade elementary student Akari, and is named "Socks" for the white pattern on its right legs. The two become inseparable, and Socks helps Akari recover from the sudden death of her mother. However, when Akari enters university and immerses herself in a hedonistic lifestyle, Socks' presence begins to become an encumberance...

Shochiku will be hoping to emulate the performance of Sai Yoichi's 2004 guide dog tearjerker "Quill", which grossed 2.3 billion yen on its way to achieving pan-Asian box office success, as well as this year's "Helen the Baby Fox" directed by Kono Keitaro which has brought in a respectable 1.8 billion to date.

Motoki has helmed the studio's big hope for next year's Golden Week holidays "Gegege no Kitaro", which also features Tanaka, and previously directed her in the Kudo Kankuro-penned comedy "Drugstore Girl". Further casting for "Inu to Watashi no Ju no Yakusoku" has yet to be announced, although it has just started shooting in Hokkaido, and a release is lined up for spring 2008. (source: Sanspo)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sayurists unite: Yoshinaga to star in Yamada Yoji's wartime drama


Retirement doesn't seem to have crossed the mind of 74-year-old filmmaker Yamada Yoji, with his third Fujisawa Shuhei adaptation "Bushi no Ichibun" starring SMAP's Kimura Takuya opening in December and now the announcement of his next work, a WWII drama tentatively titled "Kaabee" and starring Yoshinaga Sayuri (61).

The film is based on "Chichi e no Rekuiemu" (literal translation: Requiem for a Father), a 1984 autobiographical novel by Nogami Teruyo, a former script continuity assistant to Kurosawa Akira. Yamada met Nogami through his friendship with Kurosawa and received a copy of the book from her, subsequently praising it for its realistic depiction of the women of that era.

Beginning in Tokyo in 1940 immediately prior to the outbreak of war between Japan and the U.S., the story revolves around a mother (Yoshinaga) who becomes a social pariah after her husband is arrested and imprisoned for thought crimes under the Peace Preservation Law. Amidst hardship and vilification, she fights to raise and protect her two daughters.

Yoshinaga has worked with Yamada twice before on his Tora-san series, taking the 'madonna' role in "Otoko wa Tsurai yo: Shibamata Bojo" (1972) and "Otoko wa Tsurai yo: Torajiro Koi Yatsure" (1974). Although this will be her 112th film, the character she plays is rather incongruously only in her late thirties.

Showa period Tokyo will be recreated for the film using open sets and CG embellishment. Auditions are currently being held for the roles of the two daughters, with photography set to commence on January 20th next year. Producers and distributors Shochiku have pencilled in a release for early 2008. (source: Nikkan Sports, Daily Sports, Sanspo)

Friday, November 03, 2006

An Iwai Shunji film, starring Ichikawa Kon

If you've been wondering what Iwai Shunji has been up to since directing his last feature film "Hana and Alice" (2004), rest assured that he's not resting on his laurels. He produced Kumazawa Naoto's Iwai-esque "Rainbow Song" (Niji no Megami) starring Ueno Juri and Ichihara Hayato, which opened last weekend; he wrote the script for a youth film about rock bands in the 1990s called "Bandage", to be directed by Kitamura Ryuhei of all people; and now he's shooting a documentary about 90-year-old filmmaker Ichikawa Kon.

"Ichikawa Kon Monogatari" (The Ichikawa Kon Story) will take a somewhat unorthodox approach, mixing text, rare photographs, and interviews on the set of the director's self-remake "Murder of the Inugami Clan" (Inugami-ke no Ichizoku) to tell the story of his life from infancy to the present day. He also talks about his days as an animator before becoming a film director. Directed, scripted and edited by Iwai, it'll no doubt bear his distinct sensibility.

Iwai, a self-confessed fan of Ichikawa who at one stage was tipped to direct a new entry in the Kindaichi Kosuke series synonymous with his idol, described the director's original "Inugami-ke no Ichizoku" as his "filmmaking textbook" and admitted his visual and editing style is greatly influenced by his work.

The new "Murder of the Inugami Clan" opens nationwide on December 16th, while "Ichikawa Kon Monogatari" is set to screen at Kadokawa Herald's newly renovated Shinjuku Garden Cinema from December 9th. (sources: Cinema Today & Nikkan Sports)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sawajiri Erika: don't hate her cos she's beautiful

Interesting headline on Yahoo Japan news today: "Sawajiri fails in attempt to be ugly". It's referring of course to Sawajiri Erika, the 20-year-old French-Japanese actress who has been grossly overexposed on both the big and small screens this year, and her turn in Shono Jiro's "The Letter" (Tegami) which opens nationwide this weekend.

I first wrote about this one back in April when the project was announced. The headline originates from an interview with director Shono where he talks about the challenge he faced matching the actress to the role. "If her character was as it is in the book, she'd be more dowdy and unattractive. But then she moves to the city and grows more sophisticated, becoming beautiful through her enduring love for the protagonist. But despite that, Sawajiri is pretty right from the beginning, no matter what you do. We tried a lot of things like reducing her makeup, making her wear glasses and tying her hair, but that only made her even cuter... it was an utter failure (laughs)."

"Even so, putting aside her appearance, her presence and performance that she constructed out of an awareness of the period was wonderful. Her ability to do so made me sense Sawajiri's power as an actress."

Shono's comments remind me of Garry Marshall's 1991 film "Frankie and Johnny", in which Michelle Pfeiffer was glaringly miscast as a homely waitress, a role originally played on stage by the not as aesthetically pleasing Kathy Bates. With fellow hot young properties Yamada Takayuki and Tamayama Tetsuji sharing top billing and its typically hanky-wetting subject matter, "Tegami" might have seemed like guaranteed box office coin a year or so ago, but this year has seen increasingly diminishing returns for such romantic and/or tear-jerking fare featuring young starlets. This is one of distributor Gaga's first stab at the genre (if you could call it that), but will the surplus of similar films and the ubiquity of its lead actors work against it? (source: Cinema Today)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pacchigi 2: Chimachogori Boogaloo

It's not exactly a movie that was crying out for a sequel, but when did that ever stop anyone? "Pacchigi!" (We Shall Overcome Someday), Izutsu Kazuyuki's award-winning youth drama about love between a Japanese boy and an ethnic Korean (zainichi) girl that launched the acting career of current it-girl Sawajiri Erika (20), is headbutting its way into a second film with an all new cast.

Director Izutsu returns, but the roles of the zainichi brother and sister played by Sawajiri and Takaoka Sosuke (reportedly Miyazaki Aoi's real-life boyfriend) will be taken over by newcomers Nakamura Yuri (24) and Isaka Shunya (27). The film's era and setting have also been updated.

"We Shall Overcome Someday" was a big success for Izutsu, both critically and at the domestic box office. It also played several overseas festivals, including the NYAFF 2006, and was subtitled by a certain fellow Japanese film blogger. "Pacchigi! Part 2" (tentative title) is scheduled to open in May next year. (source: Nikkan Sports)

Be With You: and you, and her too...

In keeping with the gossipy tone of yesterday's TIFF post and adding a hefty dollop of salaciousness, this morning the tabloid papers confirmed what the even less scrupulous weekly rumour rags have been whispering about for weeks: actors Nakamura Shido (34) and Takeuchi Yuko (26) are calling it quits on their 16-month marriage.

Don't worry, there is actual film news at the end of this story, but not before you wade through a bit of dirty laundry.

June 25th, 2005: After meeting on the set of lachrymose megahit "Be With You" (Ima, Ai ni Yukimasu), major stars Nakamura and Takeuchi enter into a shotgun marriage due to an unplanned pregnancy.

November 2005: Takeuchi gives birth. It's a boy.

February 2006: Takeuchi returns to the public eye in a commercial for Shiseido's shampoo Tsubaki.

July 2006: Nakamura is arrested for drunk driving and running a red light in Tokyo's Setagaya ward. He claims to have indulged in a few tipples on a plane back to Japan, after which he went out with friends and only drank Oolong tea, and claims he was unaware of his inebriation. It is discovered that he was driving with a female passenger, not Takeuchi, but Nakamura asserts that she is a mutual friend of the couple, and more tellingly, not in the entertainment biz.
Takeuchi and her son subsequently move into her office, which is explained as a way for them to avoid the prying eyes of the weekly gossip magazines, but actually turns out to be a prelude to divorce.

A few weeks later: Whaddya know! The woman in the car was actually actress Okamoto Aya (23).

September 25th 2006: Nakamura is snapped in the wee hours indulging in a clandestine meeting at a family restaurant with sexy actress and divorcee Takaoka Saki (33).

Late October 2006: Takeuchi's return to the big screen is announced for director Negishi Kichitaro's "Saidoka ni Inu" (literally translated as A Dog in the Sidecar), where funnily enough she plays the mistress of a father whose wife has run out on him.

November 1st: The charade is over: Takeuchi files for divorce.

Now we return to you to your regularly-scheduled film news:

"Saidoka ni Inu" is based on a short story from Nagashima Yu's Akutagawa Prize-winning "Mo-Supido de Haha wa". After the mother (Suzuki Sawa) of 10-year-old Kaoru (Matsumoto Kana) leaves home, the raucous cigarette-smoking mistress (Takeuchi) of her father (Furuta Arata) suddenly moves in. Her personality is the direct opposite of her mother, but Kaoru's initial apprehension gradually develops into admiration for her forthright ways.

The film opens next autumn and also stars Shiina Kippei, Nukumizu Yoichi, and Kiki Kirin. (sources: Sanspo 1 & 2)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

New Miike

Alright Miike Takashi fanboys and fangirls, time to gird your loins once again as news of the director's latest project bursts forth.

Get this for a combination: Miike is to direct an adaptation of "Flower and Snake" author and S&M specialist Dan Oniroku's novella "Bishonen", which can be literally translated as "pretty young man". Set during the late 40s-early 50s in Kansai, the western region of Honshu that includes Osaka, Wakayama and Kyoto, it's a typically racy story of forbidden love between two high school boys.

The producers are currently holding an open audition for the lead role of Kikuo and no casting announcements have yet been made, but it's very easy to picture Matsuda Ryuhei and Ando Masanobu in the lead roles with their turns as homosexual lovers in Miike's challenging "Big Bang Love, Juvenile A" fresh in the memory. As the film is still in pre-production it'll be a while yet before a release date is confirmed, but knowing the speed that Miike works we can probably expect to see this first at one of next year's major international film festivals. Are you listening, programmers?

By the way, there is a yaoi manga adaptation available, but the novella itself seems to be currently out of print.

The story goes a little something like this:

As "I" was practising with my jazz band in a light music faculty room,
a young man entered.

With one glance, "I" was entranced by this incredibly beautiful young man.

His name was Kazama Kikuo.
He was the heir to the Wakamatsu style of traditional Japanese dance.

"I" had a girlfriend named Kumiko, and had never been interested in men before. However, when I heard Kikuo play "Spring Sea" on the koto at the school festival, I was moved as a fellow musician even though our genres were different, and even went as far as writing a letter to him.

Thinking back now, I can see that it was probably a love letter.

That was the beginning of "my" relationship with Kikuo.
We watched Kabuki and drank tea together.
From the outside, it must have looked like two boys dating.

Then one day when Kikuo came to stay the night,
he and "I" consummated our bond quite naturally.

"I" was torn between my feelings and my morals.
But no matter how much "I" agonized, "I" still loved Kikuo,
and Kikuo loved "me".

Unlike Kumiko, Kikuo was extremely feminine.
For that reason, it took time before "my" room was filled with Kikuo's love.

Before long the relationship between Kikuo and "I" became the talk of the school.
Then Kumiko began to catch on, and she became incensed with jealousy.

When the rumors first began to spread,
"I" contemplated breaking up with Kikuo over a minor argument,
and consulted school thug Mikio.

However, this would lead to the binding and humiliation of Kikuo by Mikio, his girlfriend Mariko, and Kumiko, before "my" very eyes,
as I experienced hellish torment and ecstasy. (sources: Maeda Shigeji's blog, Raku Film)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Suzuki Seijun: still killing

83-year-old Suzuki Seijun has pulmonary emphysema that requires him to be permanently attached to a respirator, but it didn't stop him from making an appearance last Saturday at a retrospective in Shibuya celebrating the 50th anniversary of his directorial debut.

Mari Annu (58), the striking Indian-Japanese actress who played heroine Misako in 1967's "Branded To Kill" (Koroshi no Rakuin), was also in attendance on the first day of the "Suzuki Seijun 48-pon Shobu" (Suzuki Seijun 48 Film Challenge) at the great little meiga-za (revival movie theatre) Cinema Vera.

Mari had been plucked from Nikkatsu's music halls for the role by Suzuki himself. "Back then I had felt a strong urge to commit suicide, but when I [read the script] I was captivated by Misako. I loved her name, but it was her first line "My dream is to die" that had a profound impact on me. It was like lightning."

"Suzuki Seijun 48-pon Shobu", currently running as a sidebar of this year's Tokyo International Film Festival, features 48 of the maverick filmmaker's works (unfortunately, without subtitles) from his 1956 debut "Minato no Kanpai: Shori o Wa ga Te ni" (Harbour Toast: Victory Is In Our Grasp) to 2001's "Pistol Opera", and is the first to screen his entire body of work for Nikkatsu. Suzuki sheepishly admitted that "Some of these films are so embarrassing, I wish they wouldn't screen them."

The incorrigibile Suzuki was in fine form as usual, so here's some other choice quotes:

On the use of "Maebari", strips of adhesive material for covering an actor's genitals that came into regular usage on movie sets in the 1960s: "I said it was the director's job to put them on the actresses, but unfortunately they turned me down. I hear it hurt to take those things off." Mari added: "It did. It was a real let-down when Shishido Jo wore one on set. I'd been hoping to see him in the buff."

On the abundance of female protagonists in his recent films: "That's because it's mostly men who go to see them. I don't know about guys going together though! (laughs) Action films are for women. They like the bloodthirsty stuff."

And on cast relations: "A lot of directors who were born in the Meiji period got it on with their actresses. It wasn't the done thing for guys like me who were born in the Taisho period. If only I'd been born 10 years earlier..." (sources: Sanspo, Nikkan Sports, Cinematopics)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Aoyama Shinji's monster doco finished at last

Aoyama Shinji's 7-hour and 23-minute-long documentary "AA" is to open at Athene Francais Cultural Center in Tokyo on December 12th.

It's a portrait of music critic Aida Akira, who introduced free jazz and progressive rock to Japan in the 1970s before passing on at the age of 32. Told through interviews with musicians and critics who knew him, this collaboration between Aoyama and students from The Film School of Tokyo (Eiga Bigakko) ended up taking five years to complete.

The project started out as an assignment for one of the classes Aoyama teaches at the school, with filming to take place over the course of a year and culminating in a two-hour work. However, its objective of examining not only music but also the general culture of the 1970s through Aida led to the shooting of around 120 hours worth of digital video footage, which impelled the students who comprised the film's crew to stick with the production over the five years until its completion.

Because of its length, the documentary will only be screened once a day. Staff are advising viewers to bring a packed lunch and chill out in the basement cafeteria during the three intermissions. (sources: Nikkan Sports & Sendai Mediatheque)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Rare print of early Tsuburaya Eiji film discovered in Kyoto

A print of "Godzilla" and "Ultraman" SFX legend Tsuburaya Eiji's first film as a special effects director, thought to have been destroyed in the aftermath of WWII, has been uncovered in Kyoto.

"Kaigun Bakugekitai" (1940), sponsored by the Naval Ministry of Japan and produced by Toho, was thought to have been destroyed by its makers in fear of prosecution by the American occupation forces. Directed by Kimura Sotoji and starring Tezuka Katsumi, Fujita Susumu and Uno Jukichi, it depicts an aerial battle between naval bombers and enemy fighters over China using a mix of miniature aircraft and actual aerial footage shot by the navy.

Osaka University of Arts Professor Ota Yoneo discovered a degraded 16mm print last year at the house of a collector in Kyoto, and carried out a 35mm restoration at the university. The 50-minute shortened version of the original 78-minute film will be screened on October 25th at the Goethe-Institut Kyoto as part of the 5th Kyoto Film Festival. (sources: Sports Hochi & Asahi)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The new Mifune Toshiro is - Oda Yuji?! "Sanjuro" remake announced

Kurosawa Akira's 1962 classic "Sanjuro" (Tsubaki Sanjuro) is to be remade with "Bayside Shakedown" star Oda Yuji (38) taking over the role synonymous with Mifune Toshiro, with "Kazoku Game" and "The Mamiya Brothers" director Morita Yoshimitsu (56) at the helm and Kadokawa Haruki (64) producing.

This will be the first time that one of Kurosawa's films has been remade in Japan. According to distributor Toho, the Kadokawa Haruki Corporation bought the remake rights for "Yojimbo" and "Sanjuro" from Kurosawa Productions for 300 million yen in May last year. Director Morita put himself forward to direct the latter film, suggesting that the remake remain true to the original but with a more pronounced comic touch, and also recommended Oda for the lead role.

Shooting begins in mid-September, and the cast are currently undergoing training for the fight scenes. The film will open in Japan next year. (sources: Nikkan Sports & Sanspo & Sponichi)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Miike's yakuza pic wraps, Kimutaku in Fuji TV blockbuster

PS2 game "Ryu ga Gotoku 2" goes on sale today, and production on Miike Takashi's movie adaptation has wrapped. Although the game is restricted to ages 17 and up, the film targets all ages. It's scheduled for release in Japan on March 3rd next year, with South Korea following in summer and North America is also on the cards. Check out the source article for photos of Miike, Sega producer Nagoshi Toshihiro, star Kitamura Kazuki and other cast members at a reception party for the project. (source: +D Games)

Despite his long-held status as Japan's most popular male television actor, for the most part SMAP hearthrob Kimura Takuya (AKA Kimutaku) has been conspicuously absent from the silver screen. All that seems to be changing, with his current lead turn in Yamada Yoji's "Love and Honor" (Bushi no Ichibun), and now Fuji TV's film adaptation of their hit series "Hero." Pulling in an average rating of 30% when it screened in early 2001, the show starred Kimura as a former juvenile delinquent turned unconventional detective, and quickly became Fuji TV's highest rating drama series ever. Fuji's head of film production, mega producer Kameyama Chihiro, had originally considered making a film out of it 3 or 4 years ago, but when a one-off special aired in July this year registered a whopping 30.9% rating the Fuji bean counters began drooling for more. The script is still being written, and filming is scheduled to begin next March including a possible overseas location shoot. Suzuki Masayuki, director of fellow SMAP member Katori Shingo vehicle "Ninja Hattori-kun The Movie", takes the helm. Original cast members Matsu Takako, Otsuka Nene, Abe Hiroshi and Katsumura Masanobu are set to return, and big name guest stars are in the works. Expect something on the scale of the "Bayside Shakedown" films. A release is set for September 8th 2007.(sources: Sanspo,Sports Hochi)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Saraba, TIFF 2006: Good riddance?

The Kinejapan email discussion list has been rife with tales of backstage intrigue at the Tokyo International Film Festival, which lowered its curtain last Sunday for another year and perhaps the last time in its current incarnation. The Japanese government, or more specifically the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) via film promotion body Unijapan, wants to use it as a tentpole for a "contents" jamboree encompassing video games, anime, and other image-based media; a move that critics say could compromise TIFF's integrity as Japan's premiere film showcase. But anyone who has attended or even just browsed the programme in recent years must surely be aware that its credibility as an international cinema event has been in question for some time now, a fact that was only emphasised by the nature of this year's awards ceremony which by all accounts was marked by the kind of odd choices characteristic of its programming.

Not having seen any of the competition films myself, I can't offer any worthwhile comment on the quality or otherwise of the lineup, so I'll defer to the words of Miyazaki Yosuke in part one of the Asahi Shinbun's TIFF 2006 roundup.

At the 19th Tokyo International Film Festival which came to a close on the 29th, a most unlikely French comedy, "OSS 117 Cairo Nest of Spies", an abundantly parodic 'pure entertainment film', picked up the top award. One juror even went so far as to say that none of the International Competition selections made an impression. That disarray was continued on the administrative side.

With the announcement of "OSS"'s Grand Prix win at the award ceremony, a surprised stir spread through the crowd. The reason for this was that seven newspaper writers keeping a score chart had given the film an average of 2.4 out of a possible five points, ranking it the lowest out of the 15 films in competition.

The film is set in Cairo in the 1950s. A heavily pomaded, smartly besuited spy beds and dances extravagantly with a royal beauty. However, in actual fact he is somewhat less than suave. The secret base is a poultry farm, the hero slips free from his bindings despite being dunked in the sea, the backgrounds are obviously composites, and there's even a cheapo action sequence where chickens are thrown as weapons.

"Setting it in the present would have made it too much like a comic, so we set it in the 50s, and thoroughly lampooned old spy films", explained director Michel Hazanavicius after the film's screening on the 25th. On being awarded the Grand Prix, he was obviously thrown for a loop. "I'm amazed that a comedy film would be awarded the top prize. If a comedy was going to win, I thought it would have been 'Little Miss Sunshine'" (which won for Best Director, Best Actress, and the Audience Award).

Juror Garin Nugroho pointed out "That none of the 15 films stood out is problematic".

Regarding "OSS", juror Bill Mechanic offered his ironic appraisal. "While it's artistic, it's also enjoyable entertainment, without any bite." But does that qualify as originality?

"The choice of 'OSS' could perhaps have been a gesture of protest by the jurors at the low quality of the competition films", suggested one foreign journalist .

At the press conference after the awards ceremony, few questions were posed despite the awarding of the Grand Prix. Furthermore, the director himself requested that no questions be asked of him due to the hoarseness of his voice, turning the conference into a strange, somewhat defensive affair.

There were other unforeseen occurrences besides the nature of the films.

The only actor on the jury, Kudoh Youki, was absent from the award ceremony and press conference due to "a film shoot overseas", thus her views on the films and message to the audience went unheard. It seemed to be a sign of the festival's insubstantial status.

Elsewhere, the winner of the "Winds of Asia" section was the first film to simultaneously win the International Competition's Award for Best Artistic Contribution, and the director said he had only learned of the festival's system of 'straddling categories' the day before. Some jurors also had strong reservations about films selected by differing judges and criteria being made to compete on the same stage.

"We humbly accept the criticism. We want to keep deepen discussion from now on", said International Competition programme director Tanaka Chiseko.

Including the sudden switch of International Competition Jury President from Claude Lelouch to Jean-Pierre Jeunet immediately before the opening of the festival, the messiness of the festival's International Competition, its 'face', left a bad aftertaste. (source: Asahi Shinbun)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

See the movie, grope the real thing

In an innovative marketing ploy, distributor Gaga Communications is offering female filmgoers the chance to experience a 'host club' with the purchase of advance tickets for Nishimura Ryo's new film "Waters."

The 6,000 yen (around US$42) package for two includes two hours of all-you-can-drink revelry at one of five host clubs in Shinjuku's notorious Kabuki-cho district, courtesy of the film's consultant, "charisma host" Ayukawa Yu. The deal is limited to 100 tickets, and is available to all women over the age of 20.

If you're unfamiliar with the whole host club concept, think of a hostess bar but with the roles reversed. Female customers pay a door charge to receive the attention of a bevy of young metrosexuals, who are instantly recognisable for their defacto uniform of regulation black suit, fake tan and extravagant coiffure. Most clubs charge first-timers around 5,000 yen for two hours, and regulars can expect to pay considerably more. As with their female counterparts, the most successful hosts are those with finely-honed conversation skills rather than stunning good looks. Newcomers to the business start out by scrubbing toilets and performing other menial tasks, in the hope of rising up their club's popularity ranking to take the title of "number one." It's a gruelling profession that demands daily binge drinking and minimal sleep, even for those at the top of the food chain. Top hosts with business nous and a talent for self-promotion often move into club ownership, or sometimes even cross over into more mainstream entertainment such as television or publishing.

"Waters" stars Oguri Shun (23) of "Azumi" and "The Neighbor No. Thirteen" (Rinjin Jusan-go) fame, and is an ensemble piece about seven young men who, for various reasons, end up working as hosts in the same club.

The film opens on March 11th. (source: Sports Nippon)

Additionally, Philip Brasor has written this commentary on the mainstreaming of host clubs for The Japan Times.

Friday, February 10, 2006

"Yamato" sets sail for international waters

Distributor Toei claims to have received offers from 40 countries and 100 companies for its WWII epic "Yamato" (Otokotachi no Yamato).

The film is on show at this month's Berlin International Film Festival's film market, where Toei are trying to close the various deals on the table. Offers have been received from countries including the U.K., France, Germany, Taiwan and Singapore. As the only footage distributed internationally so far is a 3-minute promotional video, the Berlin film market screening will be the first time the entire movie has been screened outside Japan.

Since it opened on December 17th of last year, "Yamato" has been seen by 3.4 million people in Japan alone, and has racked up over 4.2 billion yen (roughly US$35 million) in box office receipts in the process. Its scheduled eight-week run in theatres has been extended, largely thanks to producer Kadokawa Haruki's skill in parlaying the film into a social phenomenon. Tours visiting the gigantic set for the movie in Hiroshima and the nearby Yamato Museum are proving to be extremely popular, while a range of Yamato-branded products including curry, coffee and sake have gone on sale.

Kadokawa is adamant that his film won't be sold cheaply. "In my style of filmmaking, I always think about creating something that can measure up to foreign productions. I make films with a strong awareness of the overseas market." This explains the prominent display of the film's English title "Yamato" in all domestic promotional materials, and possibly also the English refrain of the theme song "Close Your Eyes," written and sung by Springsteen-esque rocker Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi.

He also denies claims that the film romanticizes World War II from a Japanese perspective. "The words 'long live the emperor' [tenno heika banzai] appear nowhere in the film. Pride and responsibility in being Japanese is important, but that's not the same as resorting to nationalism."

The resurgent producer is already working on his next film, a biopic of Genghis Khan entitled "Aoki Okami," which is being backed by the Mongolian government. In his view, "co-productions with other countries will probably increase because of Yamato." (source: Sports Hochi)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Momoi Kaori to make directorial debut

Actress Momoi Kaori (53), probably best known to western audiences for her role as Mother in "Memoirs of a Geisha," is to make her directorial debut with family drama "Ichijiku no Kao" (literally "Face of a Fig").

Momoi, also a prolific writer and singer, is one of Japan's most venerated actresses with a long and varied filmography including Kurosawa Akira's "Kagemusha," Yamada Yoji's "The Yellow Handkerchief" (Shiawase no Kiiroi Hankachi) and Miike Takashi's "IZO."

Momoi will be adapting her own novel of the same name, and also appears alongside comedienne Yamada Hanako (30) in her first starring role. Yamada plays a young woman who has a baby without the knowledge of her mother (Momoi).

Yamada, a diminutive but feisty character who initially dabbled in pro-wrestling before joining gargantuan comedy talent agency Yoshimoto Kogyo, won the part after auditioning alongside over 5,000 hopefuls last October.

Shooting begins in April, and a release is scheduled for this autumn. (source: Sanspo)

"Godzilla" theme composer Ifukube Akira passes away

Ifukube Akira, the renowned film composer who created themes for "Godzilla," The Burmese Harp" (Biruma no Tategoto) and numerous other works, died of multiple organ failure on February 8th in Tokyo at the age of 91.

Born in Kushiro, Hokkaido in 1914, Ifukube began composing music while studying forestry at university, and later became a lecturer at the Tokyo College of Music (Tokyo Ongaku Gakko) in 1946. During his tenure there he taught composition to many future songsmiths, including prolific film composers Akutagawa Yasushi (Shiro Toyoda's "Portrait of Hell" (Jigokuhen) and Mayuzumi Toshiro (Ozu Yasujiro's "Good Morning" (Ohayo)).

Ifukube's first composition for film was for Taniguchi Senkichi's "Snow Trail" (Ginrei no Hate) in 1947, and he subsequently created memorable music for the "Godzilla," "Daimajin" and "Zatoichi" series, as well as scores of other films.

In his childhood in Hokkaido, Ifukube was influenced by the music of the Ainu, one of Japan's indigenous peoples, and he went on to produce many orchestral compositions including "Japanese Rhapsody" (Nihon Kyoshikyoku), widely regarded as his masterpiece.

Ifukube later served as president of Tokyo College of Music between 1976 and 1987, and was designated as a Person of Cultural Merit (bunka korosha) by the Japanese government in 2003. (source: Sanspo)

MDN has the story covered here.

For more information on Ifukube Akira, see Toho Kingdom, Wikipedia, The International Shakuhachi Society, Naxos, and Godzilla & Other Monster Music.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The museum and the movie theatre

Over the new year break, I headed out to Tokyo's Ueno Park to see producer Arato Genjiro's latest controversial work "The Whispering of the Gods" (Gerumaniumu no Yoru). It's one of those films that censorship advocates instinctively swarm over, and perhaps even justifiably so, but Arato is never one to let the protectors of the common good get in the way of artistic expression. He's completely avoided the problem of finding a distributor by simply building his own cinema, the Ikkaku-za, within the grounds of the very prim and proper Tokyo National Museum. Asahi.com explains how this strangely symbiotic relationship came about.

By the way, all screenings of "The Whispering of the Gods" on Fridays at Ikkaku-za are English-subtitled. For reasons that will become painfully clear after watching the movie, this quirky little cinema could be of the few places in the world where you can see it on the big screen, so don't miss out.

Kisarazu Cat's Eye: The final chapter

The concluding entry in the "Kisarazu Cat's Eye" series is set to open this autumn.

"Kisarazu Kyattsu Ai: Warudo Shirizu" (Kisarazu Cat's Eye: World Series) will reunite the original team of director Kaneko Fumiki, screenwriter Kudo Kankuro, and cast members Okada Junichi, Sakurai Sho, Okada Yoshinori, Sato Ryuta and Tsukamoto Takashi.

Kisarazu Cat's Eye is a comedy-drama focusing on the escapades of five baseball-mad friends living in the suburban city of Kisarazu, Chiba. The phenomenon began with a high-rating 2002 TBS television series, which subsequently evolved into 2003 movie "Kisarazu Kyattsu Ai: Nihon Shirizu" (Kisarazu Cat's Eye: Japan Series) that racked up 1.5 billion yen (roughly US$12.5 million) at the box office and was seen by 1.2 million filmgoers. The sequel picks up three years after the death from terminal illness of lead character Bussan (Okada), and will supposedly be the final instalment in the series.

Production of the latest instalment was partly brought about by the eager prompting of Kisarazu mayor Mizukoshi Isao, who sees it as a way of invigorating local tourism and industry as well as stemming the steady leak of its populace to nearby Tokyo. The city government has given the film's producers full backing, allowing the blocking of major roads for shooting and even sending city employees to help shovel snow on their days off. (source: Sanspo)

Monday, February 06, 2006

"Bashing" finally makes it to theatres

Kobayashi Masahiro's "Bashing" (Basshingu), the sole Japanese film selected for the 2005 Cannes Film Festival's competition section, will be released at last in Japan in late May.

The film encountered difficulties finding a domestic distributor because of its controversial subject matter concerning overseas volunteers who are taken hostage and the criticism they receive upon returning home, echoing real events in Iraq. Fortunately, its stance was validated when it was awarded the Grand Prize at Tokyo Filmex 2005 and subsequently attracted interest from distributors. It has since won the Special Jury Prize at the 24th Fajr International Film Festival in Iran, and has been invited to many other festivals around the world.

"Bashing" will screen initially at Theatre Image Forum in Shibuya, Tokyo and Cine Nouveau in Kujo, Osaka. A wider release is currently under consideration. (source: Nikkan Sports)

Return of the yo-yo! "Sukeban Deka" is back

Toei have recruited director Fukasaku Kenta (33) and idol Matsuura Aya (19) to revive their "Sukeban Deka" series.

"Sukeban Deka" (literally 'Female Delinquent Detective') originated from Wada Shinji's bestselling manga revolving around the adventures of sharp-tongued yo-yo-wielding young ladies in school uniform. The 22-volume comic series has sold over 20 million copies to date and has been adapted into two films, three high-rating live action television series, and an animated version. "Sukeban Deka: Kodonemu = Asamiya Saki," the latest movie version and third in the series, was given the green light after a DVD box set of the original films and TV show released last year sold over 130,000 copies.

"Sukeban Deka: Kodonemu = Asamiya Saki" updates the character from the mid-1980s into the 21st Century, with its protagonist being forcibly repatriated to Japan from New York to take on modern issues such as bullying, terrorism, and internet crime. Most crucially, Toei will be making the film's heroine more relevant to modern audiences by raising her hemline from around the ankle to above the knee. Other new elements to look forward to include combat uniforms, wire action and computer graphics. Matsuura will be joined by her Hello! Project talent agency stablemates Ishikawa Rika (21), Miyoshi Erika (21) and Okada Yui (18).

Here's a rundown of the story:

A police detective working undercover at private school Seisen Gakuen is blown to pieces on the streets of Shibuya. The cop had been investigating students frequenting a popular underground website named "Enola Gay," where information on everything from bullying to bomb-making is exchanged. One week earlier, a strange counter on the website began ticking down to some unmentioned event... Meanwhile, a young girl only known as "K" is brought back to Japan from New York against her will, and is assigned the codename "Asamiya Saki" by the National Police Agency. Her mission: infiltrate Seisen Gakuen...

Matsuura is far and away the most popular of the current batch of old-style idol singers, and is an inescapable small-screen fixture on numerous variety shows and television commercials. She is the most successful single member of Hello! Project, the female equivalent of pretty-boy factory Johnny's Jimusho that has given us amorphous supergroup Morning Musume and endless permutations thereof. Matsuura becomes the fourth incarnation of Asamiya Saki after Saito Yuki, Minamino Yoko, and Asaka Yui. This will be her second film appearance following 2003's "The Blue Light" (Ao no Hono) and her first starring role.

"Codename: Asamiya Saki" will be Fukasaku's third feature-length film after "Battle Royale II" and last year's "Under the Same Moon" (Onaji Tsuki o Mite iru). Principal photography kicks off in mid-February, and a release is set for this autumn.(source: Sanspo)

* As seen on Twitch

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Oda Satoru: the man behind the (theme) music

Filmgoers in Japan during the 1960s will no doubt recall that many of the great films of that era featured highly evocative theme songs, such as Jean-Luc Godard's "Vivre sa vie" and "Le Doulos" starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. What they probably aren't aware of is that many of those memorable tunes were actually created right here in Japan.

After keeping the secret for four decades, their creator, jazz saxophonist Oda Satoru (78), has decided it's time to spill the beans and explain how these works came to be.

An exponent of swing music at the time, Oda found himself unable to latch on to the then-fashionable trend of modern jazz, and instead found success with his jazz adaptations of ballads and folk songs. It was around this time that he received a rather unorthodox job offer.

"One day a record company asked me to write a theme tune for a movie. They showed the film to me before it was released, and it didn't have any theme music. The music in the original version repeated a short theme, and was really little more than an acoustic effect. So I borrowed its motifs, re-edited and re-wrote it, and made it into a piece of music. It was sold as part of the film's soundtrack, and played behind the movie's credits."

Oda went on to compose special theme songs for over 20 hit European movies between 1962 and 1966, including "Young Aphrodites," "Les Grands Chemins" and "Topkapi." In cases where there was no theme song at all, such as with Lindsay Shonteff's "Licensed to Kill," Oda ended up writing the whole piece himself.

According to film industry sources, it was common for hit films in the mid 1960s to produce hit theme songs, such as with Rene Clement's "Plein Soleil." There were even radio shows dedicated to such tunes. However, European films rarely featured theme music, and movie distributors struggled for ways to promote them. This more than likely explains the emergence of these Japan-only theme songs.

A former record company employee recalls: "Composers of the original score were paid for the rights to use the soundtrack. Oda's music was used for these films in Japan, so it wouldn't be lying to say that they were part of the soundtrack. But at the time it was probably pretty dodgy in a legal sense."

"Quite a lot of these tunes have stuck in the memories of film fans," explained Oda. "If I didn't come clean about them, their real history would never be known."

Oda will perform his theme songs once again for a special Tokyo concert on February 15th entitled "Maboroshi no Sukurin Tema-shu" (Phantom Screen Theme Collection). (source: Mainichi)

Japan's Supreme Court makes its own movie

To foster greater understanding of the new criminal trial system to be introduced over the next few years, the Supreme Court of Japan has produced its own 62-minute PR movie called "Hyogi" (Deliberation).

Starring Nakamura Shunsuke ("Rockers"), Kobayashi Nenji ("Twilight Samurai") and Enoki Takaaki ("Adan"), the 70,000,000 yen (roughly US$600,000) film depicts the waverings of a group of "citizen judges" (saiban-in) who must determine the outcome of an attempted murder trial.

"Hyogi" will be made available for screenings and rental from libraries and district courts around Japan from April. (source: Mainichi)

(To find out more about Japan's criminal trial system, see this Japan Times editorial and the Supreme Court of Japan homepage.)

Another manga adaptation: "Kabe Otoko"

A film adaptation of prolific manga artist Morohoshi Daijiro's "Kabe Otoko" is currently being filmed in snowy Hokkaidō, with director Hayakawa Wataru at the helm and starring Sakai Masato and Ono Maya.

"Kabe Otoko" (literally "wall man") are strange wall-dwelling creatures that are neither human nor yokai (goblin). They observe the ways of humankind from their unique position, and television plays an important role in their existence. When Nishina (Sakai) tells his TV reporter girlfriend Kyoko (Ono) what he has heard about them, she introduces the story on her show, setting off a chain of bizarre events...

Horror mystery "Kabe Otoko" was first published in 1996. Other works by Morohoshi to get the big screen treatment include his "Yokai Hanta" series, which formed the basis for Tsukamoto Shinya's 1991 Shochiku film "Hiruko the Goblin" (Hiruko: Yokai Hanta), and "Seimei no Ki," which became last year's Ichise Taka-produced "Kidan."

This will be Hayakawa's second feature after his 16mm work "Nana-ni-go," which was selected for the Cannes Film Festival's International Critic's Week in 1999. Hayakawa freelances on films, commercials and other productions in Sapporo, and also teaches at Sapporo International University.

Filming began in Sapporo on January 27th. Hayakawa hopes to complete the film in time to submit it to the Cannes Film Festival in May, and a domestic release is scheduled for this autumn. (sources: Sports Hochi & Hokkaido-jin & Sapporo University)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Osawa Takao makes history in South Korean rom-com

Osawa Takao (37) is to become possibly the first Japanese actor to headline a South Korean film after signing up for director Bae Hyo-Min's (not sure of the spelling) romantic comedy "Far Away to Love."

The film focuses on a romance between a former mafia chief who is targeted by assassins after being betrayed by the don of his old gang, and his strong-willed Korean interpreter. 99% of Osawa's lines will be in Japanese.

Osawa already enjoys a degree of fame in South Korea thanks to his performance in the 2004 mega-hit "Crying Out Love in the Center of the World" (Sekai no Chushin de Ai o Sakebu) which was seen by around 180,000 filmgoers, and in February of last year he appeared in a music video for popular singer Jo Sung Mo. "Far Away to Love" producer Kim Jun-Jong subsequently offered the lead role to the actor in spring last year.

Filming begins in early March in both Japan and South Korea. The actress who will star opposite Osawa is yet to be named.

Osawa, who last year lent his voice to the Japanese dubbed version of "March of The Penguins," has several films lined up for release in 2006 including "Helen the Baby Fox" (Kogitsune Heren, opening on March 18th), "A Cheerful Gang Turns the Earth"(Yoki na Gyangu ga Chikyu o Mawasu, opening on May 13th), and Shinohara Tetsuo's "Metoro ni Notte" which opens in November.

"Far Away to Love" is scheduled for a September release in South Korea, while Japanese audiences will have to wait until 2007. (source: Sanspo)

* As seen on Twitch

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A "Black Night" in Asia

Horror anthology film "Black Night," a Hong Kong/Japan/Thailand co-production, is to be released in Japan and six other Asian territories this summer.

Its three thirty-minute installments are set in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Japan's entry is entitled "Dark Hole," Thailand's "Lost Memory," and Hong Kong's "Rinjin" (Neighbor).

The cast of "Dark Hole" is headed by Kashiwabara Takashi ("Another Heaven") and Seto Asaka ("One Missed Call 2"). Filming began in Tokyo last December, and editing is currently under way.

The producers of "Black Night" are aiming for entry in this year's Cannes Film Market, as well as an eventual U.S. release.

* As seen on Twitch

(sources: Yahoo! Japan & Nikkan Sports)

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