Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cast update for "Shikisoku Zenereishon"

As mentioned here last week, Taguchi Tomorowo's second directorial effort "Shikisoku Zenereishon" is currently shooting in Kyoto and on Tuesday Stylejam held a press conference to introduce the rest of the cast. Lead character Jun is to be played by minor punk band Kuroneko Chelsea vocalist Watanabe Daichi, who auditioned successfully from a field of 2000. He'll be joined by fellow warblers Kishida Shigeru of the band Quruli (who supplied the soundtracks for Inudo Isshin's "Josee, the Tiger and the Fish" and Yamashita Nobuhiro's "Ramblers") and Gingnang Boyz' Mineta Kazunobu, who played protagonist Nakajima in "Iden & Tity", as well as model/actress Usuda Asami. Cinematopics also has Ishibashi Anna ("Your Friend") listed, although no mention was made of her on Stylejam's blog.

Photo: back row - Usada, Lily Franky, Hori Chiemi, Kishida, Mineta
front row - Miura Jun, Watanabe, Taguchi

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Volcano High" director teams up with "Death Note" screenwriter

While the governments of South Korea and Japan continue to engage in petty squabbles over the Liancourt Rocks, the Mainichi reports that filmmakers from both countries are uniting to combat a far more sanguine issue: vampires.

"Higanjima" is a manga currently being serialized in Young Magazine about a high school boy named Akira and his friends searching for his lost brother on an island ruled by bloodsuckers and populated by various other monsters.

Only director Kim Tae-gyun and screenwriter Oishi Tetsuya (also the script perpetrator for Fukasaku Kenta's "X-Cross") have been announced so far for the adaptation, but Bunka Tsushin say the rest of the cast and crew will be Japanese. Due in summer of 2009.

You can read the first instalment of the manga by clicking on the link at the bottom left of this page.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Nishijima and Kase co-star in "Tonan Kadobeya Nikai no Onna"

How is it that a film headlined by two of the best actors of their generation, Nishijima Hidetoshi and Kase Ryo, is lined up to screen in only two cinemas? And what enabled its 27-year-old female director to cast such big names in her first feature?

"Tonan Kadobeya Nikai no Onna" (The Woman in the Second-Floor Apartment in the Southeast Corner) director Ikeda Chihiro is an alumni of The Film School of Tokyo whose short graduation piece was nominated for the Cinefondation program of the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. After working as an assistant director on several films, she joined Tokyo University of the Arts' graduate film course where she studied under Kurosawa Kiyoshi and Kitano Takeshi. That's quite a pedigree.

Then there's the film's wealth of talent behind the camera, including cinematographer Tamura Masaki ("Lady Snowblood", "Tampopo", "Eureka" and "Sad Vacation"), editor Ohshige Yuji ("2/Duo", "The Mourning Forest", "Then Summer Came"), composer Nagashima Hiroyuki ("Angel Dust", "Eli Eli Lema Sabachthani") and producer Isomi Toshihiro ("Blood and Bone", "Nobody Knows", "Adrift in Tokyo").

September 20th is the date set for opening day at Shibuya's Eurospace with the Kawasaki Art Center in Kanagawa to follow, but amazingly those are the only two screening venues that have been announced so far. Although I can't vouch for the film's actual quality as I haven't seen it and there's no trailer on its homepage yet, I feel confident enough to venture that in a utopian society, this would be playing on more screens than "Boys Over Flowers".

This is what it's all about:

After his father dies leaving behind a mountain of debt, Nogami (Nishijima) comes up with a plan to redevelop and sell off land owned by his grandfather Yujiro (Takahashi Masaya) on which stands an old apartment building. Convinced that it's the only way to rebuild his life, he resigns from his job. However, Yujiro won't even so much as nod his head. He says nothing. As if fearing the damage he could do if he did speak, he remains stubbornly silent...

Nogami's former colleague Misaki (Kase) decides he can't take any more of dealing with his clients' outrageous complaints and suddenly quits his job, simultaneously losing his girlfriend.

Neither life nor work is going well for freelance food coordinator Kyoko (Takebana Azusa). Consequently she can't pay the renewal charge on her apartment, and seeing marriage as the only solution she registers herself with a matchmaking service. The man she is introduced to is the virtually unemployed, debt-laden Nogami.

Lives falling apart, all lacking something, all unfulfilled...

The trio find themselves drawn to Musashino Womens' Apartments, managed by pub Fumito owner Fujiko (Kagawa Kyoko) and standing on Yujiro's land. In the block, there is one apartment for which a key can't be found and thus no-one can enter. Kyoko moves in next door and discovers a hole in the closet wall that divides the two apartments, on which is written: "wishes granted". Skeptically, all three drop their wishes into the hole's vast pitch blackness.

Apartment owner Fujiko has visited widower Yujiro for years in order to care for him. It makes her beam with girlish joy.

Then she learns of Nogami's debt.

Several days later, Fujiko invites Yujiro to go on vacation with her for the first time. Fumito regular and tatami mat maker Roku (Shiomi Sansei) is pleased for them. While Nogami, Misaki and Kyoko look after the pub in Fujiko's absence, he gets pleasantly drunk and raves on about a journey to Africa in his youth and the history of human evolution, lost dreams, and that which he gained from them. The three find themselves entranced by Roku as he cherishingly recounts his many experiences.

The next day, a fierce typhoon moves in as if trying to blow away the old apartment building. In the powerful winds, the storm shutters of the never-opened apartment are blown away. Sneaking in through the window, the trio enter the sodden room and make an unexpected discovery.

Ayase Haruka = breasts

Ayase Haruka has largely got where she is today through restrained usage of her substantial bust, and South Korean director Kwak Jae-Young took this to hilarious extremes earlier this year when he made her bosom the integral theme of his mildly creepy but not altogether irredeemable "Cyborg She", so now she's taken the next logical career step by playing the lead in "Oppai Bare", which I am delighted to translate faithfully as "Tits Volleyball".

Gee willikers, that's just a provocative title designed to conceal another wholesome played-out teen music/sports storyline, I hear you say. After all, the Kaho choir comedy "Utatama" used to be called "Atashi ga Sanran suru Hi - Salmon Girl" (the day I spawned). And of course you're right, voice in my head. Don't be sucked in by co-distributor Toei's press release that kicks off with the line: "Win this game, and teacher will flash her boobs!"

Ayase plays a teacher named Mikako who has lost confidence in the meaning of her work but gets her groove back through growing together with her studentzzz. Aoki Munetaka plays her colleague and confidante Kenji, while Nakamura Toru is a former volleyball player who coaches the school's useless team. Former national womens rep and comedy connoisseur Obayashi Motoko has been brought in to whip the actors into shape. The source material is a novel by scriptwriter and TV writer Mizuno Munenori, "The Silver Season" and "Umizaru" series director Hazumi Eiichiro directs, and the screenplay is by... someone who gives a shit. Shooting began yesterday and it's set for release next February.

Hiroki Ryuichi's "Your Friend"

Hiroki Ryuichi's "Your Friend" (Kimi no Tomodachi) finally opens in Japan this weekend after screening earlier this year at the Hong Kong and Udine film fests, and Mark Schilling attentively tells you everything you need to know about it here. There's a postage stamp-sized trailer on the film's homepage, but you're probably better off with the YouTube one below.

Although recent Horipro find Ishibashi Anna is getting the most attention for her first lead role, for me the real draw is Yoshitaka Yuriko, who displayed her usual talent for scene-stealing in Miki Satoshi's "Adrift in Tokyo" as spacey teenager Fufumi. So far she's performed a succession of supporting turns stretching back to her debut in 2006's "Noriko's Dinner Table", not counting an installment of the omnibus film "Yubae Shojo" based on the works of Kawabata Yasunari, but September presents her biggest chance so far for cracking the big time with the release of R-15-rated "Snakes and Earrings" (Hebi ni Piasu) in which she plays the central character of split-tongue revering body-mod novice Rui. I get the feeling it won't be the vehicle that elevates her to Miyazaki Aoi or Aoi Yu-like status, but she definitely has the potential.

Update: Mr. Schilling gives "Your Friend" a glowing review and an atypically high rating in his weekly Japan Times spot.
[youtube width="425" height="335"][/youtube]

From prosaic to just plain stupid

The Tsumabuki Satoshi-starring South Korean-Japanese co-production "Boat" now has a brand new title (in Japan at least): "No Boys, No Cry". For accuracy's sake, I hope Tsumabuki's drug-smuggling human trafficking character is also a gay rastafarian.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stills from the set of "Shikisoku Zenereishon"

In Kyoto. That's director Taguchi Tomorowo wearing glasses in the top photo, and Hori Chiemi in the middle one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The men with the balls to remake "Seven Samurai"

Whatever happened to Nakano Hiroyuki, once a hot property after the success of his self-consciously hip "Samurai Fiction" and subsequently a pariah due to the abject failure of "Red Shadow"? Why, naturally he's been remaking Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai".

For a pachinko machine.

Current Kurosawa Production Co. president Kurosawa Hisao has already been vilified by some for frittering away the rights to his Dad's films and image on sub-par remakes and canned coffee commercials, so this is hardly going to do him any favours.

That being said, just look at the talent assembled: former Kurosawa-gumi members such as costume designer Wada Emi, cinematographer Ueda Masaharu and action director Kuze Hiroshi, as well as this all-star cast:

Nagase Masatoshi as Kikuchiyo
Chiba Shinichi as Kanbei
Fukikoshi Mitsuru as Kyuzo
Musaka Naomasa as Shichiroji
Masato (pretty boy K-1 fighter who's also in Hong Kong beat-em-up "Shamo") as Katsushiro
Taguchi Tomorowo as Gorobei
Tanaka Yoji as Heihachi
Aso Kumiko as Shino

The official site has a bunch of clips that admittedly look quite well-realised, although that might just be thanks to "The Last Princess" lowering the bar for Kurosawa remakes to subterranean levels. This being a Nakano 'film', the soundtrack features the wholly appropriate musical accompaniment of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction", "Paint It Black" and "Jumping Jack Flash".

I'm not totally down on the guy though - his video for Photek's "Ni Ten Ichi Ryu" matches the song's atmosphere perfectly.

"Ponyo" detractors sharpen their sushi knives

If Zakzak are to be believed, "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea" is unloved by kids and movie hacks alike:

The opinions of film critics and veteran writers who attended previews are split down the middle. Here's a sample of some of the harsher ones:

"Compared to his last three films that addressed environmental destruction, morality and pacifism head-on, its themes of love and keeping promises are important but overly minimal."

"Although it's set in the sea there's no sense of scale, and there's not much in the way of uplift either."

"Kids who are used to greater stimulation will probably go for the "Pokemon" movie that opens on the same day instead."

In fact, even Miyazaki himself has admitted that "the reaction from kids at preview screenings was absolutely non-existent, and he's down in the dumps because he tried making something for kids but failed to hit the target."

Ghibli expert and film writer Abo Yukiko takes an affirmative stance.

"Those who want to argue over content should go and watch one of his other films. 'Ponyo' is almost a film to be savored in its entirety rather than picking over it in your head. Ponyo's subtle movements are delightful, and it illustrates Miyazaki's powers of human observation."

I'm sure if Miyazaki had taken his customary polemic approach with this one, certain media would be having a go at him for his 'inveterate left-wing didacticism' or something along those lines instead. It's also instructive that publications who allow the holders of critical opinions to remain anonymous (or more accurately just make shit up) are often the same ones who love to go off on editorial campaigns against internet bulletin boards because they offer their users the exact same courtesy. Me, I'll wait until the crowds die down a bit before going to see the film, but surely it can't be as disappointing as "Howl's Moving Castle".

Thoughts on "Chameleon"

Despite my better judgement I braved the teeming Marine Day holiday masses in Shinjuku yesterday to see Sakamoto Junji's "Chameleon" at Toei's - or rather T-Joy, their distribution arm - flagship multiplex Wald 9. Located on the upper floors of a trendy department store, it's an absolute bastard to get to on a busy day while you either wait an eternity for a filled-to-capacity lift or impersonate conveyor-belt sushi as you stand in single file on the anorexic escalators. In a crowded metropolis on first-name terms with earthquakes and high-rise fire hazards, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more life-endangering screening environment.

Strangely, Toei didn't present capital dwellers with much of a choice. Although the Fujiwara Tatsuya actioner was released in regional multiplexes throughout the country on July 5th, only three cinemas in Tokyo City's 23 screen-replete wards came to the party. Variety Japan explained why:

...distributor Toei has put together a unique theatre market for it with Tokyo's Shinjuku Wald 9 multiplex as the primary venue. This configuration of cinemas represents something of a new direction for the company, which has worked mainly with theatres specialising in domestic films through a system called block booking, and its outcome will be keenly observed.

In contrast with the growing trend of wide releases spread across an array of Tokyo mini theatres, this set-up involves a combination of Tokyo multiplexes and cinemas owned and operated by Toei as well as regional cinema complexes. Similar arrangements have been attempted before, but the results have generally been underwhelming. This has largely been due to the mismatching of films and markets.

A proper screening environment alone isn't enough to make a dent in the box office. However, what's important to note this time around is that the film that's been booked is well-suited to its release pattern.

Releasing "Chameleon" simultaneously around the country in theatres specialising in Japanese films would have been a tricky proposition, but with a limited market of three inner-city Tokyo cinemas and a selection of multiplexes, it just might be able to fulfil its potential to the fullest. The idea of Sakamoto Junji directing a script written by Maruyama Shoichi for the late Matsuda Yusaku is a perfect fit for Toei. As a contemporary outlaw film, you can sense its high potential.

Previously, Toei owned a distribution company called Toei Central Film and built up its own market of theatres outside those dedicated to local product, generating starring vehicles for Matsuda and independent films to create a new era. "Chameleon"'s close connection to Matsuda ramps up interest even further. In terms of content and promotion, it could prove to be the most challenging of Toei's recent output.

"Chameleon" snuck stealthily into cinemas with relatively little in the way of promotion since its initial introduction in the press months ago (this also seems to have been the case with Kore-eda Hirokazu's brilliant "Even If You Walk and Walk" (Aruite mo Aruite mo), which also opened with minimal fanfare). Perhaps that's partly because Fujiwara isn't seen as an actor who can 'open' a film (regardless of his female fanbase and the success of the "Death Note" franchise), especially not this self-styled throwback to the good old days when men were men and locally-made action films weren't viewed as box office anathema.

Here, as a scam artist with a mysterious past that includes stints as a mafia bodyguard and apprentice mercenary, the flyweight Fujiwara is severely miscast and no amount of back story and hackneyed cigarette posturing is going to transform a rail-thin babyface into a charismatic arse-kicker. Although he only looks convincing when up against someone his own size - who unfortunately happens to be the sole female thug - the action scenes manage to achieve some degree of realism due to their gimmick-free simplicity and chaotic choreography in which no-one is left unhit. Director Sakamoto deserves recognition for allowing the brawls to breathe by shooting them from mid-distance and cutting only when necessary, but it's action director Nikamoto Tatsumi who really deserves the credit. As a veteran of Sonny Chiba's Japan Action Club who became a fight choreographer after catching Matsuda's eye and the man responsible for Kitano Takeshi's "Zatoichi", it's his expertise that brings the film closest to recapturing the glory days of old. Unfortunately the film peaks too early, with its exciting action centerpieces of a warehouse siege and demolition site car chase (you heard me, an actual car chase!) far surpassing the final anti-climactic raid on the villains' lair, for which Fujiwara's character commits the last of his fashion crimes in switching to stunna shades and standard-issue black trenchcoat (the latter is at least justified in the last scene, despite what Twitch's review says).

Direction, script and performances all fall uniformly in the 'adequate' basket and there's nothing here that you haven't seen done recently with more style and originality in Hong Kong or South Korea, not counting its novel assertion that taking several sniper rounds in the back isn't necessarily lethal. Then again, it's not bad enough to make you ask for your money back and it won't lose much in translation to DVD except perhaps from some knuckle-crunching sound effects. I can't help wondering if it could have been improved by casting Fujiwara and the more effective but under-utilised lead heavy Toyohara Kosuke in reverse, but that would only further emphasise its low budget V-cinema aesthetic. Would talent agencies even be willing to take a risk on someone like Matsuda Yusaku today?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Taguchi Tomorowo to direct his second Miura Jun flick

Stylejam announced their adaptation of subculture maven Miura Jun's semi-autobiographical novel "Shikisoku Zenereishon" a while back on their in-house blog, but today Variety Japan have revealed that rocking character actor Taguchi Tomorowo, a former bandmate of Miura's, will be donning his director hat once more following his 2003 debut "Iden & Tity" (which was also based on Miura's work).

Miura's mate and fellow writer Lily Franky will be taking on another dramatic role after essentially playing himself in one of this year's best films "All Around Us" (Gururi no Koto), while the only other cast member to be announced so far is former teen idol Hori Chiemi. "Linda Linda Linda" scribe Mukai Kosuke provides the screenplay.

Set in the 1970s, the story revolves around a Bob Dylan-worshipping virgin in his first year at a buddhist high school who lives a pampered life with his caring parents (played by Hori and Franky) but struggles to cope with his teenage neuroses. One summer he heads off with his friends to Shimane's Okinoshima, rumoured to be an "island of free sex"...

Incidentally, the title is a play on the buddhist parable shikisokuzeku which means "every form in reality is empty, and emptiness is the true form", and might be translated as "Vain Generation". Filming begins today in Kyoto, and a release is set for summer next year.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Nonchan Noriben" update

With only two features under his belt despite a filmmaking career that stretches back to the early '80s, what director Ogata Akira lacks in prolificness he makes up for in quality. "The Milkwoman" (Itsuka Dokusho suru Hi) is unmistakeably one of the best Japanese films of the last decade and won the Montreal World Film Festival's special grand jury prize, as well as picking up several honors at home, and yet the only DVD release I know of is an English-subtitled disc for the domestic market. Middle-aged love stories usually aren't huge unit-shifters, but you'd hope that the so-called purveyors of quality cinema out there would take more of an interest in such a masterfully realised work.

Now production on Ogata's highly-anticipated third film "Nonchan Noriben", which distributor Movie Eye has lined up for 2009, is finally kicking into gear according to this call for extras which tells us it'll be going before cameras from the 25th of this month to August 31st. Still no word on the cast, but at least now Movie Eye has provided us with a synopsis:

Komaki is a downtown-bred 31-year-old woman. Running out of patience with her younger good-for-nothing husband, she takes her daughter Non-chan and moves back to her family home in Kyojima in Tokyo's Sumida ward. She looks for a job so as not to burden her parents, but as a single mother with only a junior college education and a lack of qualifications and experience it proves to be more difficult than she expected, and eventually ends up getting fired from the only part-time job she can find. Komaki grows despondent over her humiliating situation, but when a friend takes her to a pub, by chance she encounters the one thing that will change her life: saba no miso-ni (mackerel simmered in sweet miso)....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sakamoto Junji says 'hoes before bros'

Director Sakamoto Junji at an opening day screening of "Chameleon", to an audience packed with fans of star Fujiwara Tatsuya:

Normally, it's rare for an audience of one my films to be overwhelmingly female, as most of the time its generally people who don't have any friends [laughs], so today is very refreshing.

Screw you Sakamoto, that's the last time I take my Real Doll along to one of your movies!

"Climber's High" clings on to modest success

As of July 13th, "Boys Over Flowers" can be declared the victor in the war between the two most excessively promoted films of 2008 to date, accumulating 3.79 billion yen so far against Mitani Koki's "The Magic Hour" which has still managed to ring up a highly respectable 3.29 billion. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is still leading the summer pack with its 4.03 billion take, but "Boys Over Flowers" is well on its way to asserting its meticulously coiffured dominance.

Neither of these films were included in Toho's box office report for the first half of 2008, but they could still boast 11 films that exceeded 1 billion yen in takings (not counting BOF & TMH), with Doraemon anime "Nobita and the Green Giant Legend" the top performer at 3.37 billion. As for two of this year's worst films, "Shaolin Girl" limped into 7th place with 1.5 billion while "The Last Princess" deservedly failed to make the list. Variety Asia has the full story.

While "Boys Over Flowers" grabs all the headlines, "Climber's High" is proving to be a much-needed hit for director Harada Masato and should outdo his previous best, 1999's "Jubaku - Spellbound" (Kinyu Fushoku Retto: Jubaku). Despite a minor fall from third to fourth spot in its second week of release, it was seen by 134,072 and brought in 170,413,199 million yen in its first two days which means co-distributors Toei and Gaga can realistically hope for a final take of 1.5-2 billion. Although this may be small bikkies next to the reigning box office champs, as Cyzo point out its success is particularly notable due to its lack of TV company backing and consequent dearth of promotional muscle. After the lacklustre showings of Harada's "The Suicide Song" (Densen no Uta) and "The Shadow Spirit" (Moryo no Hako) last year, I'm glad to see him get back into the groove.

Friday, July 11, 2008

"One Million Yen Girl" flees overseas

Aoi Yu's "One Million Yen Girl" (Hyakumanen to Nigamushi-onna) opens in a week's time in Japan, but it'll be receiving its international premiere at this year's Montreal Film Festival after being selected for their Focus on World Cinema section. There's also a screening lined up in South Korea (Pusan?) for sometime in autumn.

It's an original story written and directed by critics' favorite Tanada Yuki (probably best known overseas for "Moon and Cherry" - which suffers from my crappy subtitling - and her script for "Sakuran") for Nikkatsu, who are giving it probably the widest domestic release of any of her films to date. Check Tokyograph for a brief synopsis, and Cinema Today for an assortment of stills.

Incidentally, a couple of months back Cyzo ran the following unsubstantiated rumours of diva-like behaviour from Aoi on the set of her recent TV series "Osen":

She constantly turns up on set without having learned her lines, and becomes a bit testy when she's given direction... her behaviour often darkens the atmosphere on set. She acts the same toward the director too. Of course, no-one is disputing the high quality of her acting, but it raises concerns for her future.

Then there's speculation from a "showbiz agency insider" on what made her that way:

She's appeared in commercials and advertising since her elementary school days, and in 1999 she was chosen for the lead in a stage production of "Annie", but her acting career never really took off so she paid her dues doing things like working as a model for fashion magazines. She gained recognition as an actress thanks to films like "All About Lily Chou-Chou" and "Hula Girls". That's why she really invests herself in them. However, you might say that although she's appeared in television series before, in contrast with her films, her reputation hasn't been particularly good. She just works at her own pace, and needs to memorize the script...

Then they wrap the article up contritely with a much more positive account from a "film insider":

In the film "Hula Girls" she dances the hula in the climactic scene, but she wasn't satisfied with her own dancing and stayed behind after all the extras in the audience had gone home so she could reshoot just her scenes. The entire crew was impressed by her determination.

Even if it's not utter bollocks, unlike Sawajiri Erika it doesn't seem to have had much effect on her career.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Sky Crawlers" or "Sky Bawlers"?

Two things I learned from MovieWalker's report on the premiere of Oshii Mamoru's "The Sky Crawlers": the script is by "Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World" screenwriter Ito Chihiro, with supervision by that film's director Yukisada Isao. Now my mind is filled with dark visions of lots of teary shouty dialogue and terminal romance in between all the CG-assisted dogfights. Please prove me wrong, Oshii sensei!

Don't know about you, but I can't get these damn videos to play in either Firefox or Internet Explorer.

And is it just me or has anyone else found themself reading the katakana title as "Sky Corolla" or "Sky Cholera"?

A rare victory (?) for live-action over anime

As Jason Gray pointed out in the comments of this post, the long-running buddy cop TV series and recent hit film "Partners" (Aibo) is attempting to emulate the "Bayside Shakedown" franchise with a spin-off picture of its own. "Kanshiki: Yonezawa Mamoru no Jikenbo" elevates supporting cast member Rokkaku Seiji to marquee status (might be a hard-sell as a leading man) as his character, forensic specialist Yonezawa Mamoru, teams up with detective Aihara Makoto (Hagiwara Masato) for some CSI-style investigative action. Series stars Terawaki Yasufumi and the rejuvenated Mizutani Yutaka return.

But all of this pales into insignificance next to the realisation that the director will be the legendary Hasebe Yasuharu, possibly best known for his numerous Nikkatsu classics from the 60s and 70s including seminal yakuza tales "Shima wa Moratta" and "Blood for Blood" (Soshiki Boryoku - Ryuketsu no Koso), three films in the "Stray Cat Rock" series, and Kaji Meiko's last "Sasori". Although he hasn't made a feature since 1994, he's been a regular fixture behind the scenes of countless TV cop shows and will hopefully be given some room to work his mojo.

Strangely enough, the emergence of the spin-off in conjunction with Kudo Kankuro's "Shonen Merikensack" has forced Toei to take the unprecedented step of skipping next year's instalment in the "One Piece" series of animated features, despite it being a valuable source of guaranteed income for the studio (the last two films brought in 900 million yen each). Variety Japan speculates this also may have something to do with One Piece manga publishers Shueisha, who don't want to see the U.S. live-action adaptation of their property "Dragonball" clash with the pirate saga.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

All that glitters may not be Takemajin

Variety Japan have revealed the true form of Takemajin in Kawasaki Minoru's "Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit". I wonder if Kitano really donned the suit for the film? He had his "official" impersonator Bitotakeshi fill in for him during a recent press conference, so he could just be supplying the voice.

Shochiku @ YouTube

Shochiku have just opened their own YouTube channel, supposedly to help combat unauthorised uploads. A warning shot aimed at trailer bandits perhaps?

"Boys Over Flowers" über alles

Hisashiburi! It's good to be back. Seen anything decent lately?

Chances are it wasn't "Boys Over Flowers" (Hana Yori Dango Fainaru), which is shaping up to be this year's "Koizora". This July 4th column by editor Komai Naofumi breaks down the math behind its dishearteningly gargantuan success, and illustrates how the profitability of high-rating-TV-show-turned-multiplex-fodder means their ilk are sure to be raping and pillaging the souls of undiscerning filmgoers for the foreseeable future.

Even with its various numerical achievements before it even hit theatres, such as selling 240,000 advance tickets (the most ever sold for a Toho live-action film) and 250,000 applications for a preview screening at the Budokan, the momentum of "Boys Over Flowers" upon its release has far exceeded expectations. In the two-day period from its opening on June 28th, it was seen by 805,350 people and made 1,005,798,910 yen. That means it wrung 1 billion yen out of 400 screens in the space of two days.

Word has it that "Boys Over Flowers" could achieve a 10 billion yen haul because of this opening - a 160% improvement on that of fellow TBS production "Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World" (which ultimately racked up 8.5 billion yen) - but that's probably a little off the mark. You couldn't call it a valid comparison.

First of all, let's measure it against the previous week's opening of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (excluding advance screenings). That film pulled in 806,427,400 yen in its first weekend, meaning that the turnout for "Boys Over Flowers" was 125% better. In addition, while "Indiana Jones" went out on 789 screens, "Boys Over Flowers" started with 400. In other words, it has hammered out a 125% superior performance with around half the screens of "Indiana Jones", and holds the current record for the biggest opening by any film released this year.

Also, the most appropriate yardstick for forecasting the box office revenue of "Boys Over Flowers" would most likely be "Hero" (produced by Fuji TV et al and released in September of last year), in the sense that it also came from a high-rating TV series and had a TV company at the helm, with distribution by Toho. In its first two days in release it pulled in 749,807 filmgoers and earned 1,009,473,875 yen, which coincides well with the performance of "Boys Over Flowers. "Hero" eventually brought in 8.15 billion yen, so we can expect that "Boys Over Flowers" will do similarly well, namely around 8 billion. Needless to say, in all probability it will supplant "Indiana Jones" as the second biggest hit of the summer holidays 1 (I already retracted my silver medal forecast for "Indiana Jones" last week).

All in all, the massive success of "Boys Over Flowers" is an occurrence that underlines the fact that today's hit films are being made by television companies. Both "Boys Over Flowers" and "Hero" originated in popular television series that constantly rated over 20%. As a 1% rating is said to correspond to 1 million viewers, that means over 20 million people were tuning in each week. If we suppose that one out of four viewers (i.e. 5 million people) go to see the film version - that's 5 million tickets at 1500 yen each sold - we can estimate a box office take of 7.5 billion yen. Most filmgoers are female, so by factoring in the many available discounts such as ladies day, even by reducing the ticket price to 1300 yen that's still a 6.5 billion yen haul.

Of course, basic numerical simulations like these can't tell the whole story, but at the very least we can gain a glimpse of the revenue potential when popular TV shows become movies.

Incidentally "Partners" (Aibo - Gekijoban - Zettai Zetsumei! 42.195km Tokyo Biggu Shiti Marason), another television-to-film adaptation that was released in May and became a resounding hit, garnered average ratings of 15% over the course of several television series. Supposing that one in four of its 15 million-strong audience went to see it, meaning 3.75 million people, at 1500 yen per ticket that's a take of 5.625 billion yen. At 1300 yen a ticket, you're looking at 4.875 billion. For the record, in the 9 weeks to date since its release "Partners" box office take stands at 4.3 billion yen.

Just going on these calculations, I sense that we'll be seeing a steady stream of film adaptations of popular television series from now on. As it happens, across the Pacific in the U.S., the huge success of the film version of "Sex and the City" has given impetus to an adaptation of "Friends" 2. "24" and "Lost" are already on the same course.

In every country, films are deeply dependent on television. However, it's too late to worry about that now. It's more positive to look forward to more and more television viewers flooding into theatres.

*1 The odds-on favorite is Miyazaki Hayao's "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea".

*2 Since debunked as pure speculation, so there is some justice in the world after all.