'Yatterman' reborn in every form imaginable

TOKYO — Like Hollywood, the Japanese biz has discovered B.O. gold in repurposing old toons as live-action CG extravaganzas. The most profitable recent example is “Yatterman,” a comic action cartoon that became a big hit with Japanese kids following its bow on Fuji TV in 1977, its 108 episodes later circulating widely abroad as well.

In 2008, broadcasters NTV and Yomiuri TV reteamed with the original production company, Tatsunoko Prod. Co., to make a fresh “Yatterman” toon for a new generation. The basic storyline remained the same: A young inventor and his girlfriend battle a comically inept gang of crooks with the aid of funny-looking but fully functional mecha (mechanical gizmos), including a giant robot dog named Yatterwan.

At the same time, Tatsunoko teamed with a production consortium that included distribs Shochiku and Nikkatsu to make a live-action version of “Yatterman” for theaters, helmed by cult king Takashi Miike. After opening in March in Japan, the pic soared to the top of the B.O. and stayed there for four straight weeks, raking in more than $30 million.

Now Tatsunoko, NTV and Yomiuri TV are teaming yet again to make a feature version of the toon show, skedded for release on Aug. 22. Other than the promise to treat fans to “new mecha,” the one-page site says nothing about the story, cast or staff. “We are not allowed to talk about it yet, but there will be an official announcement soon,” a Tatsunoko rep says.

What is clear is that the live-action pic is targeted mainly at teens and adults with content racier and raunchier than that seen in the original show, such as the va-va-voom leather outfit worn by the leader of crooks, played by Kyoko Fukada, leaving room for a feature toon aimed strictly at kids and their families.

The upcoming toon feature is “a stand-alone project, planned separately from the live-action film,” the Tatsunoko spokesman explains. But in Japan, where commercial pics frequently appeal to relatively narrow demos, the toon could well hit the B.O. gong yet again for the “Yatterman” franchise.

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