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Watanabe set for ‘Sand’

Pic set to begin production next week in Los Angeles

Ken Watanabe will star in Clint Eastwood’s “Red Sun, Black Sand,” the Japanese companion piece to his Iwo Jima drama “Flags of Our Fathers.”

Pic is set to begin production next week in Los Angeles.

Steven Spielberg is a producer on both films, which tell the story of the famous WWII battle from each side. DreamWorks and Warner Bros. are partnering on the pics, which will have a staggered release later this year. “Flags” is expected to bow first.

Eastwood, who is in post with “Flags,” will shoot the companion entirely in Japanese.

Japanese-American scribe Iris Yamashita penned the script, from a story by her and Oscar-winner Paul Haggis, who adapted “Flags.”

Paramount will release the films domestically, while Warner Bros. International will distribute overseas. In Japan, “Red Sun” will be titled “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

“Red Sun” revolves around the real-life Japanese General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, played by Watanabe, who battled American troops for 40 days on the small island of Iwo Jima.

Also starring in “Red Sun” are Japanese thesps Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase and Shido Nakamura.

Along with Spielberg, producers are Eastwood and Robert Lorenz (“Million Dollar Baby”). Haggis is exec producing

Eastwood will lens most of “Red Sun” in L.A., but has received permission to shoot exteriors on Iwo Jima.

Watanabe (“Batman Begins,” “The Last Samurai”) last appeared in “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

“Flags,” based on James Bradley’s book of the same name, features an ensemble cast that includes Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, Jamie Bell, Barry Pepper and Paul Walker.

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