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War pix strike hawkish note

Writer Fukui's imagination fueling Japanese blockbusters

TOKYO — The Aegis missile system on the Japanese destroyer moored in Tokyo Bay is ready to shoot. The target: key spots within the metropolitan area of Tokyo, threatening over 20 million people. The weapon: a highly efficient nerve agent that could wipe out most of Tokyo.

This is the frightening premise of “Aegis” (named after the U.S.-made advanced missile system onboard), a $12 million action thriller set for a summer release on 300-plus screens, directed by Junji Sakamoto and based on a bestselling novel by Japan’s Tom Clancy — Harutoshi Fukui.

Thanks to Fukui’s imagination, Japan’s film industry is bringing one bellicose blockbuster after another to the bigscreen during the 60th anniversary year of Japan’s war defeat.

The film version of another of his novels, “Lorelei the Witch of the Pacific Ocean,” opened March 5, telling the improbable story of a Japanese submarine saving Tokyo from an A-bomb attack just before WWII’s end.

In June comes “Sengoku Jieitai 1549,” a Kadokawa Pictures production of a Fukui tale that sends Japan’s modern army back 450 years to the age of warring states.

” ‘Aegis’ is different. It’s the only one (of all those films) that is set in the present and deals with modern threats,” says Shunsuke Nagayama, marketing exec at producer Nippon Herald Films, which distributes with Shochiku.

In the 1999 novel, which has sold 780,000 copies, Fukui had no qualms about the nationality of the bad guy, a North Korean agent manipulating the crew of the destroyer to hijack his own ship after having fitted the missiles with the poison. This kind of story struck a chord in a country that had to watch as a North Korean long-range missile flew unannounced right across its territory in 1998.

In the film version, the rogue is called Yon Fa (the producers insist that it’s purely accidental the name sounds Chinese or Korean) and is supposed to hail from “a certain country antagonistic to Japan.”

“It’s left open. We don’t want political statements. We want to entertain,” says Nagayama, all the while stressing the fact that with the rising concern in Japan about North Korea, the film “is up-to-date in its story.” Needless to say, the day, and Tokyo, are saved at the last minute thanks to the courageous efforts of Japan’s army and navy.

Better still, in a first for Japan, the producers could secure the full cooperation of Japan’s defense forces for “Aegis.” Many key scenes were shot on an actual Aegis destroyer of Japan’s navy, the air force chipped in with some stunning fighter plane scenes, and the navy provided personnel.

This allowed the producers to reduce the need for special effects and to concentrate the major part of the shoot on destroyer set built west of Tokyo. International sales will start at Cannes in May where Dentsu is to present the pic at the market.

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