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 KaoruĆ£€€(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)