'Azumi 2,' 'Nana' to be released this year

TOKYO — Last year’s surprise blockbuster weepie, “Crying Out for Love from the Center of the World,” helped propel the Tokyo Broadcasting System’s film production arm to a stellar year.

Pic, which raked in ¥8.5 billion ($81 million), or about 9% of the total 2004 Japanese box office, was one of 10 pics overseen by the unit, which together grossed more than $181 million locally. Several major titles also are on tap for this year.

“This has been our most successful year by far,” says TBS producer Daisuke Ooka. “Be With You,” the emotional sequel to “Crying Out Love,” was also a solid performer, with $45.7 million. TBS put up 25% of the financing for both films and shares in profits.

This year’s TBS lineup starts with the March 12 release of “Azumi 2,” sequel to “Azumi,” the manga-based, female-centered samurai action pic released two years ago.

The drama “Miracle for Four Days” follows in June, with “Nana” — a live-action version of a female-heroine manga that sold 20 million copies — to be released in September.

Another film in the fashionable melodrama genre is “Kono mune yipai no ai wo” (roughly translated as “A Heart Full of Love”), slated for October. Directed by Akihiko Shiota, whose TBS-co-financed film “Yomigaeri: Resurrection” did $29 million two years ago, “A Heart” likewise deals with time shifts and lost love.

Two animated features complement TBS’ lineup: “Full Metal Alchimist” is based on a TV series, while “One Stormy Night,” set for a December release, deals with the magic friendship between a goat and a wolf. Based on a children’s book that sold 2 million copies, “It’s a film for the family and deals with the importance of relationships,” Ooka explains.

While competitor and strongest network-based feature film producer Fuji Television still dominates production by financing some projects 100% inhouse, TBS remains more cautious.

“We won’t change our strategy,” Ooka says. This involves getting into a variety of diverse, high-concept projects, usually capping participation at 30% of investment. TBS holds majority rights for three of this year’s films.

Feature arm’s success at home has lead to more international recognition — “Crying” was sold to Korea (by Toho Intl.) and had a satisfying run there late last year. Even better results are expected for “Be With You,” as female lead Yuko Takeuchi is popular throughout Asia. Toho Intl. has sold it to Korea and Taiwan, while TBS concluded sales of the pic to Thailand and China at the recent European Film Market in Berlin; Hong Kong picked it up earlier.

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