Former porn director wins Oscar

Yojiro Takita's 'Departures' won Best Foreign pic

TOKYO — Yojiro Takita was hardly expecting an Oscar for “Departures,” his film about a cellist-turned-apprentice undertaker that scooped foreign language film honors at the 81st Academy Awards. “I heard that we had the worst chance of the five nominees,” he told reporters after returning to Tokyo. “(“Departures” star Masahiro) Motoki and I were just taking it easy.”

When “Departures” was announced the winner, Takita recalled, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing and looked at Motoki for confirmation: “His face said, ‘I guess that’s us,’ so I got up — after that, time seemed to stop.”

The 53-year-old Takita rose through the ranks of Japan’s massive adult film industry, directing a popular series of porn comedies about commuter-train molesters. In 1985, he made his first straight feature, the black comedy “Comic Magazine,” but his first big hit was “The Yen Family,” a 1988 comedy about an avaricious brood.

Takita’s career took a more serious — and mainstream — turn with “Secret,” a 1999 weeper about a high school girl whose soul enters her mother’s body when both are involved in a traffic accident.

The film was later remade by Vincent Perez as “Si j’etais toi” (The Secret).

Since then, Takita has tried various genres, from period fantasy (“The Yin Yang Master,” 2001) to samurai swashbuckler (“When the Last Sword Is Drawn,” 2003) and, more recently, youth drama (2007’s “The Battery”), but “Departures,” with $36 million in Japan and more than three million admissions to date, is by far his biggest hit. Now in its 25th week, the pic is still playing on 183 screens in Japan.

Regent Releasing will open “Departures” in the U.S. in late May, while international sales agent Shochiku has closed deals for 38 countries and territories worldwide.

Where does Takita go from here? He has comedy “Tsuri Kichi Sanpei,” in the can, which Toei releases March 20, but has not yet announced his plans beyond that.

“There may be pressure on me because of the Academy Award,” he told reporters. “But I’ll just keep doing what I do, trusting in my own instincts. I want to continue to make good movies — I don’t want to go through life as a has-been.”

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