Duo boosts int’l brand images

Gaga, Fuji making mart mark

CANNES — Two of Japan’s leading independent production companies — Gaga Communications and Fuji TV — are changing their image and making their presence felt in Cannes as brands in their own right.

Gaga, known in the past for its huge delegations of acquisitions staffers who pack trade screenings, is acting as a sales agent for the first time in 18 years.

Having been taken over by the Usen group last year, Gaga has hired producer Shinya Kawai and is ramping up production. Previously, most pics it produced were repped by Tohokushinsha, but these will now be handled inhouse. It aims to produce up to six movies per year on budgets ranging from $2 million to $10 million.

Top of Gaga’s slate is “Hatsu-koi” (First Love), a crime romancer with “Nana” star Aoi Miyazaki in the lead; and “Waters,” a romantic comedy about a women’s club where men are the eye candy. “Waters” has already been soaked up by Hong Kong distributor Intercontinental and South Korea’s CNS.

Fuji has had a boffo run with a string of hits including “Train Man” and the “Bayside Shakedown” franchise.

Under film department prexy Chihiro Kameyama, Fuji is now pushing into bigger-budget territory. Accompanying this crusade, Fuji is launching its new projects with Hollywood-style junkets for press and buyers.

Outfit today serves up lighthearted restaurant drama “Udon” and appropriately dishes out cold noodles in the presence of stars Yusuke Santa Maria and Manami Konishi.

Sunday it is the turn of bittersweet romancer “Sugar and Spice” which stars Yuya Yagira, back in Cannes two years after winning the actor prize for “Nobody Knows.”

Monday sees the world preem of blockbuster “Brave Story,” Fuji’s first venture into feature animation.

Sales on “Sugar” and “Udon” are handled by Pony Canyon.

While challenging the establishment majors — Japan’s giant congloms Toei, Toho and Shochiku — the two companies have even found common cause on one pic.

Fuji and Gaga are collaborating on “Backdancers,” a comedy-drama about an all-girl troupe of backing terpsichorines. Directed by former Fuji helmer Kozo Nagatsuka and scripted by another Fuji alum, Rin Goto, film will be released in September and is sold in Cannes by Gaga.

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