DiCaprio starrer's start may be sign of global thinking

Miramax has planted the long-gestating “Gangs of New York” on Dec. 21 in Japan, four days before its U.S. bow.

Company stressed the plan was subject to change and offered no explanation for the Japanese jump. But the move comes amid growing industry speculation that the studio will need to reconsider its domestic approach to avoid a collision with another Leonardo DiCaprio starrer, DreamWorks’ “Catch Me If You Can.”

It is unclear whether the Japanese date was linked to any Stateside change, but the four-day lead time would be nearly unprecedented.

Miramax may have more than Leo on its mind. A strong opening in Japan could create early buzz for a movie that may need all the positive word of mouth it can get. When “Titanic” lit up the Tokyo Film Festival in November 1997, for example, the sensational headlines of budget overages and production travails quickly subsided.

In the five years since that record-setting ship sailed, studios have been increasingly thinking globally. Warner Bros. opened its first installment of “Harry Potter” day-and-date around the world as did New Line with “Lord of the Rings.” MGM’s “Die Another Day” will bow in the U.K. before the U.S.

But the Leo factor is certainly one reason that Miramax seems to be turning Japanese.

Even DiCaprio pics that didn’t work domestically have proven successes on Japanese soil. Fox’s “The Beach” made a mere $39.8 million in the U.S. but $103.5 million overseas — $15.2 million of which was in Japan.

DreamWorks, which has adamantly clung to a Christmas Day release of “Catch Me,” has not revealed international distribution plans.With expectations mounting, a 20-minute segment of “Gangs” has unspooled at several industry confabs in 2002. It generated some admiring response, but did not dispel the cloud of skepticism that hangs over many productions of its kind.

Like “Titanic,” the film’s production has generated widespread pre-release ink, with such subjects as the tensions on the set, the pic’s budget, the protracted editing process and the studio’s reasons for postponing a release, all hotly debated.

The film was initially aimed at Christmas 2001. Citing the Sept. 11 attacks (and mindful of helmer Martin Scorsese’s deliberate post-production tendencies), Miramax explained that it would slide back to July 12. A few months later, the date changed again to Christmas.

Weinstein denied that there were tensions between he and Martin Scorsese on the set of the film in a New York Post editorial published last spring.

He also asserted that the pic’s running time would be 2 hours 40 minutes and that its price tag was $97 million, $13 million over budget. Those figures still make it one of Miramax’s priciest productions yet, even though Initial Entertainment Group carries the lion’s share of the risk.

(Lukas Schwarzacher in Tokyo contributed to this report.)

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