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