Japanese distrib dips into prod'n pot

Gaga Communications, a leading Japanese indie distrib with ambitious production aims, will tap into the largest production fund yet launched in Japan.

The ¥30 billion ($252 million) fund is being launched by Gaga’s corporate parent, Usen Corp., and Daiwa Securities SMBC. Deal was announced by Gaga prexy-CEO Yasuhide Uno.

Usen and Daiwa concluded a basic agreement on Dec. 15 to each raise half of the initial investment for the fund, which will be used primarily for the production of film, video and music content. They plan to finalize the limited partnership structure of the fund by Feb. 15.

The so-called UD#1 “will be the largest contents fund in Japan, and we will strategically place this fund to strengthen our current business as well as building our asset base,” said Uno. Gaga will “take on the motion-picture section” of the fund, Uno explained, though the exact allocation has yet to be decided.

Usen and Daiwa also intend to recruit outside investors for the fund while managing it during its 10-year life span.

Gaga’s first film to be underwritten by the fund is “Bandage,” a drama about the Japanese band scene in the early 1990s. Shunji Iwai, director of “Swallowtail” and “Love Letter,” will script, and Ryuhei Kitamura (“Azumi,” “Godzilla Final Wars”) will helm the film, which starts shooting in April and is set for a fall delivery. Star is Hiroki Narimiya.

“The fund will also contribute to the international business development of Gaga,” said Gaga chairman Tom Yoda. “We will see more and various film financing and production opportunities in Hollywood through Gaga America, as well as in America and other parts of the world.”

Founded in 1964, Usen owns the largest share of the cable-broadcasting market in Japan. In 2001, it became the first company in the world to offer a commercial Internet access service via optical fiber cable. It has capital and business ties with Sony Communications Network Corp., supplying the cable infrastructure for Sony’s So-net Internet provider service, and with News Corp.’s cable and satellite broadcaster Sky Perfect Communications. Usen acquired Gaga in October 2004.

Founded in 1986 by entrepreneur Tetsu Fujimura, Gaga has handled a wide range of pics, from Asian art pics to Hollywood films, including “Chicago,” “Kill Bill,” “Hannibal,” “End of Days” and “The Green Mile.”

Under the leadership of film development division general manager Shinya Kawai, it has also launched into film production, with a nine-film slate for 2006.

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