U, Shochiku join up in a unique pic pact

Universal Pictures, already owned by Japanese conglomerate Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., has entered into a unique co-production deal with Shochiku Co. Ltd., one of Japan’s largest multimedia companies.

The agreement calls for them to jointly produce a film that’s a remake of a 1977 Japanese movie. Titled “Yellow Handkerchief,” the project is scripted by former New York Post journalist Pete Hamill, based on his short story.

Universal execs have said they’d like this to be the start of a much longer relationship. The collaboration marks the first time that a major Japanese production and distribution company has struck a co-production deal with an American studio in which both parties share equally in all aspectsof production, and partially in distribution.

Universal will distribute the film in all territories of the world excluding Japan, which Shochiku will handle.

Shochiku and Universal have mutual approval rights over all areas of development, production and marketing of the pic.

There are preliminary talks with Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot,””In The Name of the Father”) to direct, although no deal has yet been struck.

Shochiku Co. is Japan’s oldest motion picture production company. It has a fully integrated studio and is involved in distribution, exhibition, theater, homevideo, cable (Kamakura Cable Communications) and satellite TV (Satellite Film & Theatrical Broadcasting Co.).

It’s recently entered the theme park business, building Kamakura Cinema World , due to open in 1995.

The company also happens to be one of Universal’s largest customers for exhibition inJapan.

“Shochiku wants to make movies for the world marketplace,” said MCA Motion Picture chairman Tom Pollock. “And we are anxious to be in business with foreign companies who want to access the marketplace. I hope this will be the first of many endeavors together.”

The deal came together after Hamill’s brother, Brian, approached producer Andrew Gaty with the idea to do an American remake of “Yellow Handkerchief,” since the Japanese version (titled “A Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness”) had never been distributed outside of Japan. Gaty and Brian Hamill are producers on the project.

The ’77 film, written/directed by Yoji Yamada and starring Ken Takakura, was a big hit there.

The story is about a man who meets a young couple shortly after he’s been released from prison; he tells them a story about his ex-wife and how he asked her to tie a yellow handkerchief around a tree branch if she wants him back.

“I first heard the story in a bar one night,” Pete Hamill said. “So I wrote it as a fictionalized short story in my newspaper column.”

The piece was picked up by Readers’ Digest, he said, and eventually caught the attention of Yamada, who made it into a film. The film won the Nippon academy award for best picture.

The story — or one like it — also became popularized in the 1970s song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree,” sung by Tony Orlando & Dawn.

“I really lost all interest in the story after that song came out,” Hamill said. “It became so popular that it tormented me wherever I went.”

Sources report that Shochiku has put up the initial financing for the remake and that the film’s budget is around $ 20 million, although that could rise if major stars are attached.

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