Animation, horror added to slate

Shochiku is beefing up its 2006 slate with local films in a wider range of genres, including animation and horror.

On the foreign film side of the ledger, the biggest upcoming title is Warner Bros.’ disaster pic “A Sound of Thunder,” skedded for a March 25 spring break release.

Other major Hollywood titles include Warner’s “The New World,” which will hit screens here in time for the April/May Golden Week holidays; Warner’s “The Jacket” on May 20; Sony Pictures’ “Silent Hill” on July 8; Focus Features’ “The Secret Life of Words” in the fall; and Classic Media’s “Lassie” around new year.

Looking ahead to 2007, Shochiku plans to release Jacob Cheung’s samurai epic “A Battle of Wisdom,” Sarah Robertson’s Arctic documentary “Call of the North” and Les Mayfield cop comedy “The Man.”

On the domestic side of the slate, Shochiku has several titles of international interest, beginning with “Hana” (working title), the first samurai drama by acclaimed helmer Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Afterlife,” “Nobody Knows”).

Skedded for a June 3 release in Japan, pic is a strong contender for a Cannes competition slot.

Another is “Big Bang Love, Juvenile A,” Takashi Miike’s prison drama starring Ryuhei Matsuda (“Nine Souls”) and Masanobu Ando (“Battle Royale”) that will preem at the Berlin Film Festival.

Still another is “Bushi no Ichibun,” the third of Yoji Yamada’s trilogy of samurai pics, starting with 2003 foreign-language film Oscar nominee “The Twilight Samurai” and continuing with “The Hidden Blade.” Shochiku will release pic in the 2007 New Year’s season.

The indefatigable Yamada, who turns 75 this year, is also co-scripting “River Without an Exit” (Deguchi no nai kawa), a drama about WWII kamikaze pilots that Kiyoshi Sasabe will helm. Release is set for Sept. 16.

Among films likely to set local turnstiles spinning this year are “Helen the Baby Fox,” set for a March release; “Chisana yushatachi — gamera” (Little Warriors — Gamera), the latest installment in Daiei’s classic SF fantasy series about a giant flying turtle; and “Tsuri baka nisshi 17″ (Free and Easy 17), the 17th installment in Shochiku’s beloved series about a fishing-crazy man (Toshiyuki Nishida) whose best buddy is his grouchy-but-good-hearted CEO (Rentaro Mikuni).

Shochiku is also releasing its first Japanese horror film, Ken Furusawa’s “Otoshimono,” in September. His star is teen idol Erika Sawajiri, who scooped acting awards for her perf last year in Kazuyuki Izutsu’s Romeo-and-Juliet romance “Pacchigi.”

A major film producer, distributor and exhibitor celebrating its 110th anniversary this year, Shochiku has been struggling to re-establish box office parity with archrival Toho while moving beyond its core genre of folksy dramas for older auds to appeal to a younger demographic. This year’s lineup marks a decisive step in that direction.

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