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WB Japan ups local production

Studio looks to boost remake rights

Looking to boost remake rights of Japanese pics in the U.S., Warner Entertainment Japan is taking a more active role in development and production.

WB Japan topper William Ireton said the upsurge in Japanese product is part of “Warner’s worldwide strategy to engage in local production,” pointing to the local pics Warner is producing in France, Italy, Germany and other territories. Warner plans to recoup entirely in the Japanese market, “with other territories a bonus,” he said.

“Some of our content could travel,” said local production director Hiroyoshi Koiwai, who came to Warner seven months ago after a successful career producing pics for Fuji TV. “The U.S. is still a hard sell, though some European territories are more open.”

The company has added the period actioner “Ichi” to its lineup of six production and acquisition titles for 2008-09. Based on the iconic 1960s “Zatoichi” series about a blind swordsman, “Ichi” features 22-year-old newcomer Haruka Ayase in the Zatoichi role and is helmed by Fumihiro Sori. The pic also stars Takao Osawa and Shidou Nakamura. Among the producers are Kazuya Hamana and Nobuhiro Azuma of the TBS network and Toshiaki Nakazawa of production company Sedic Intl. Currently in post, “Ichi” is skedded for a fall 2008 release, with Warner as the sole distrib.

Heading the 2008-09 lineup is the Yong-hwa Kim comedy “200-Pound Beauty,” which is set for a Dec. 15 bow. Warner also has penciled in “L — Change the World” helmer Hideo Nakata’s spinoff of the hit “Death Note” duology, “Ginmakuban sushi oji — New York e iku” (Silver Screen Version: The Sushi Prince Goes to New York), a Yukihiko Tsutsumi dramedy based on a hit TV Asahi series about a sushi chef; “The Sky Crawlers,” a sci-fi toon by Mamoru Oshii about eternal adolescents who fight wars for entertainment; and “Sweet Rain shinigami no seido” (Sweet Rain — the System of the Death God), a fantasy based on a popular Kotaro Isaka novel.

For 2009 Warner plans to release “Subaru,” a Japan-China co-production about an aspiring ballerina helmed by Lee Chi Ngai and starring Meisa Kuroki.

Asia has the biggest appetite for made-in-Japan pics, but minimum guarantees remain minuscule, with the region’s rampant piracy a major reason.

In the Japanese market, said Ireton, rival Toho “is the 800-pound gorilla” with its unparalleled distribution and exhibition clout, but Warner’s “marketing and distributing skills make us a strong second choice” for local producers shopping for a distributor, he adds. After Warner’s release of the two “Death Note” pics last year, which raked in nearly $73.4 million, producer NTV is hardly having second thoughts, partnering with Warner on the “L — Change the World” spin-off.

“We’re also looking into the remake of American movies,” Ireton said, but rights problems make it difficult, he added.

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