Monday, January 22, 2007

Harada Masato returns with supernatural mystery

Filmmaker Harada Masato has been more conspicuous as an actor of late, with prominent roles in "The Last Samurai" and Jet Li's "Fearless". His last feature-length work "Bluestockings" (Jiyu Renai) was actually made for satellite TV, and you have to go back to 2002 to find his most recent theatrical release, "The Choice of Hercules" (Totsunyu Seyo! Asama Sanso Jiken). That hiatus is now coming to an end with the commencement of filming for "Moryo no Hako" (roughly translatable as "Spirit of the Box"), a supernatural mystery set in postwar Tokyo and starring Tsutsumi Shinichi.

It's based on the second of Kyogoku Natsuhiko's nine (soon to be ten) novels featuring Chuzenji Akihiko, the proprietor of antique bookshop Kyogokudo (which is also his nickname), chief priest of a Shinto shrine in his backyard, and occasional exorcist. The series has shifted a combined total of 5 million copies to date, and the first book "Ubume no Natsu" was filmed by the late Jissoji Akio in 2005. The core cast of that movie - Tsutumi, Abe Hiroshi, Tanaka Rena, Nagase Masatoshi, and Miyasako Hiroyuki - all return, and are joined by Kuroki Hitomi, Shiina Kippei, Emoto Akira and Kudo Kankuro.

Synopsis (from Cinematopics):

In post-war Tokyo, the mutilated corpses of beautiful girls are being found one after another, stuffed into boxes. Are they connected to a strange psychic who offers prayers to the boxes, and a huge, mysterious box-shaped building? Then the daughter of former actress Yuzuki Yoko (Kuroki) goes missing... Private detective Enokizu (Abe), writer Sekiguchi (Shiina) and policeman Kiba (Miyasako) enlist the aid of Kyogokudo (Tsutsumi). Can he defeat the evil entity responsible?


Filming began on December 6th in Japan, followed by a location shoot in Shanghai from January 18th which will wrap on the 31st. Completion is scheduled for May, and the finished product will be released nationwide in Shochiku and Tokyu-affiliated cinemas sometime next autumn. (sources: Sanspo, Cinematopics, fjmovie.com)

Walkerplus has footage of the press conference announcing production of the film here:
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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Where Japanese film is at in '07

A recent thread on the Kinejapan email discussion list about the current state of Japanese film elicited a fantastic post from Aaron Gerow, a highly regarded Japanese film scholar and one of the list's owners. As it's the most perceptive and succinct appraisal of the industry I've seen anywhere, here it is reprinted for posterity's sake, with the permission of the author.

"It does seem like the papers and magazines are frequently running articles about the "healthy" Japanese film industry. You especially see the movie business appearing in the business pages more than you did in the past. There are a lot of films making money these days and it would be significant if hoga topped yoga for the first time since 1985 (some are already reporting that that is the case). But we should all note that most of these articles on the business point to a number of problems. I also encounter a number of people in the film community here who see the industry in crisis, not in a boom.

"Here are some factors of concern:

"1) While the hoga share is rising, the pie is not getting bigger. Maybe 2006 will see a rise in the total BO, but it will be too early to call it a trend. The total BO has basically gone up and down over the last five years and shown no major expansion. This all means that it is still debatable whether Japanese films are really capturing audiences on their own; perhaps fickle audiences are just temporarily separating from yoga. With total BO not increasing as the number of screens does increase, that means that revenue per screen is going down. The number of films released is also increasing, which means the revenue per film is decreasing.

"2) The hoga distribution market is radically unbalanced. In 2005, Toho films captured over 60% of the hoga market. That is one single company monopolizing 60 yen out of every 100 yen spent on Japanese movies. The situation probably will not change in 2006 since Toho just announced it had record sales last year (even though its year end releases flopped). Some are saying that with the rise of cinemaplexes, one of the evils of the Japanese film industry--the block booking system which basically prohibited 80% of the films from ever having access to the vast majority of theaters--has loosened up. And it is true that some of the films that are doing well on small release are getting picked up by the shinekon--something that didn't happen before--but with Toho being so dominant, the playing field is still tremendously skewed. This is especially the case with the rising force of TV capital. With the major hits all having TV backing, some of the business articles are reporting that theaters are refusing to show films without TV backing. And when theaters are showing non-Toho films, they are reportedly pulling the plug faster than they did before. As more films appear, it is not only getting harder to book a theater, but theaters are quickly dumping films that don't perform in the first week. Word of mouth hits are going to decrease and the market may separate into two polar opposites: TV/Toho majors and the rest.

"3) The major hits are mostly films backed by TV networks and/or based on TV shows. Many people say that Japanese are moving to Japanese movies because Hollywood films are getting repetitive and formulaic. But that is precisely what the Japanese majors are making these days. Not a few predict this boom will soon peter out. The question is whether the industry actually has the talent to produce original work that can bring in people. It is encouraging to see the rise of filmmaking programs around the country, but one wonders what kind of films they will make. I ran into a friend last weekend, someone who is a well-known director and teaches filmmaking at a major university, and he was quite depressed: none of his students, he says, go to the movies. They all want to make movies, but they make no effort to see movies, especially the classics. A lot of filmmaking programs don't even offer film history courses.

"4) But this is also a question of management. The Japanese film industry is undergoing a profound transformation as various media companies are buying up film companies. This shows that the contents industry is taking the movies seriously, but one wonders what they will do to it. A colleague told me the other day that last year the head of DVD/video sales of a major film studio called him to ask if director A was someone important. My colleague was floored: director A happened to be one of the major directors of Japanese cinema history, someone that anyone on KineJapan would know. And this was a director who was a major figure in that company for decades! And this was the head of DVD sales in that company! Oh My God! Is this the kind of personnel who are running the movie companies today? (In some ways it makes sense, because the people in their 40s who are becoming the kacho and bucho these days are the generation that never watched Japanese movies.) I have had complaints about how the film industry treats its own history and those who study it--I have long argued that they are shooting themselves in the leg over how they deal with their catalog of films--but this stunned me as well."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

John Williams' "Starfish Hotel" opening on Feb. 3rd

Japan-based Welsh director John Williams' long-awaited new film "Starfish Hotel" is finally getting a well-deserved domestic release, beginning with Cinemart Roppongi in Tokyo on February 3rd.

The dark mystery stars Mikuni Rentaro's boy Sato Koichi, model & fledgling actress Kiki (Asano Tadanobu's kinky admirer in Tsukamoto Shinya's "Vital"), unsettling beauty Kimura Tae, and the always reliably gruff Emoto Akira.

Here's a synopsis from the official press kit:

Yuichi Arisu (Sato) slaves away in a cold, geometrical office everyday, in a humdrum job, somewhere in the huge, impersonal city of Tokyo. Every night he commutes home to his distant wife (Kimura), and buries himself in the mystery novels of Jo Kuroda, a writer who has conjured up a strange universe called the Darkland.

Then, one night, his wife disappears. The following day Arisu falls asleep on the train on his way home and wakes in a siding to find jo Kuroda sitting opposite him. The writer persuades Arisu to tell his own story. So begins a second story about events that took place two years ago in a snow-bound town in the far north of Japan. There, in the eerie, crumbling Starfish Hotel Arisu begins an affair with a young woman called Kayoko (Kiki).

Is Arisu's story a memory, a dream or just a story? As the plot in the past unfolds the present day story of the search for his wife also becomes more and more bizarre, Arisu traces his wife to a private detective and then to an underground brothel called Wonderland. But the brothel burns down and the detective is murdered. Arisu becomes the main suspect in a murder case. Then the walls between fantasy and reality break down completely when Arisu stumbles into the Darkland...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Movie Matome 5/1/2007

Kaiju Shakedown today picked up on the 25 film projects panhandling at this year's Hong Kong - Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), and amongst the list were two Japanese entries: "Night-Fragrant Flower" (an overly literal translation of the characters in the Japanese title "Yeraishan", Ye Lai Xiang in Chinese, which apparently means tuberose in English) from Kore-eda Hirokazu, written by Shigenobu Yutaka and produced by TV Man Union; and "Tokyo Sonata", which based on the title alone sounds like it could be a welcome departure from horror by Kurosawa Kiyoshi, with a script by Kito Yukie and produced by Entertainment Farm Inc. Hopefully HAF will be forthcoming with more details on what they're about, as they did with Kumakiri Kazuyoshi's soon-to-be-released "Freesia" and the ex-Miike Takashi project "51 Ways to Protect a Girl" last year.

According to Nikkan Gendai, Fuji TV are pissed off at rivals Nihon TV for screening the first "Death Note" movie less than a year after its release. The film came out on June 17th of last year and racked up a healthy 2.8 billion yen at the box office, and producers Nihon TV subsequently screened it on October 27th in the build-up to the release of the concluding half "Death Note: The Last Name" on November 3rd, contributing to that film's even more impressive haul of over 5 billion and counting. However, there's apparently an unwritten industry rule that says films may come out on video and DVD six months after they open in theatres, but can only be screened on free-to-air TV one year after their release, to maintain the natural balance of competition and fair trade or something like that. Some are viewing it as evidence of the fierce rivalry between two of television's biggest film industry players, Nihon TV's Okuda Seiji and Fuji TV's Kameyama Chihiro of "Bayside Shakedown" fame.

"Josee, the Tiger and the Fish" and "La Maison de Himiko" director Inudo Isshin's "Kiiroi Namida" (lit. "Yellow Tears"), a vehicle for Johnny's Jimusho boy band Arashi (which "Letters From Iwo Jima" star includes Ninomiya Kazunari), is set to open on April 4th. It's an update of an 1974 NHK drama series adapted from a Nagashima Shinji manga about the lives and hopes of a group of young friends in Tokyo in 1963, set against a backdrop of Japan's rapid economic growth and the hosting of the Olympics in Tokyo. Inudo professes to be a huge fan of the original TV series, which he says was his initial inspiration to become a filmmaker. Kashii Yu, Kan Hanae, Takahashi Mai and Tabata Tomoko also star. (sources: Sanspo, Wikipedia)

Outspoken folk singer Matsuyama Chiharu's autobiographical novel "Ashoro yori" (lit. "From Ashoro"), which depicts his friendship with local radio director Takeda Kenji (deceased) who set him on the path to stardom, is being made into a 500 million yen film for release sometime this autumn. TV drama specialist Imai Kazuhisa will be making his cinematic debut, and the production will be shot on location in Matsuyama's hometown of Ashoro, Hokkaido. (source: Sanspo)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Movie Matome 4/1/07

The film adaptation of Watanabe Junichi's best-selling novel "Penal Colony of Love" (Ai no Rukeichi) starring Toyokawa Etsushi and Terajima Shinobu opens next weekend, and now it's being made into a two-part TV special featuring Kishitani Goro and Takaoka Saki. Both versions will basically follow Watanabe's torrid story of an affair between a writer and a married woman, and the film unfolds in a series of flashbacks after its murderous opening scene. Look like this one will be closer in spirit to Morita Yoshimitsu's "Shitsurakuen" than the usual chaste junai fare. (source: Nikkan Sports)

Actress Amami Yuki (the female lead in Harada Masato's "Inugami") and singer/actor Kikkawa Koji ("City of Lost Souls", "The Guys from Paradise") have ended their three-year relationship. The official reason given is Amami's busy schedule, which is mostly full of television drama work after a string of ratings successes over the last couple of years. (source: Nikkan Sports)