Dawn of a Filmmaker

Japanese studio studies French biz models at Lyon

LYON – Japan’s Shochiku is driving into the international classics business, tapping into a 4,000-title catalogue that includes vaunted masterpieces such as “Tokyo Story” and “The Ballad of Narayama.”

Its push comes as Carlotta Films released Yasujiro Ozu’s “The Only Son,” his first talkie, in France.

Never seen there, and playing as part of a triptych with “Tokyo Story” and “The Taste of Sake,” “Son” sold 11,000 tickets off four copies, proof of Ozu’s marquee value.

In a novel move, to mark the centenary of the birth of Shochiku-based director Keisuke Kinoshita, the studio has produced not a documentary but an original live-action film, “Dawn of a Filmmaker: the Keisuke Kinoshita Story.”

Shochiku has also run up two teasers for Kinoshita films: One by Keeichi Hara, a Japanese toon helmer best-known for his “Crayon Shin-chan” franchise; a second, by Katsuhide Motoki (“Kitaro and the Millennium Curse”).

The studio is digitally re-mastering five flagship Ozu films. “Tokyo Story,” “Equinox Flower” and “An Autumn Afternoon” are complete. “Late Autumn” and “Good Morning” will be delivered in a month, Kazu Moriguchi, Shochiku Co. general manager, licensing business division, said in Lyon, where he is attending to Lumiere Festival’s first Classic Films Market to study the success of the French heritage movie business.

Keiichi Hara’s first live-action feature, “Dawn” turns on Kinoshita’s directing “The Army,” his third film, in 1944, which was made supposedly to support the Japanese war effort. A final scene, throwing the war into human perspective, showed a mother grieving her son’s being sent off to war. It caused a huge commotion in Japan , prompting Kinoshita to resign from Shochiku.

He returned to direct in all about 50 films for Shochiku, including his two most famous movies, 1954 Golden Globe winner “Twenty-Four Eyes,” and “The Ballad of Narayama” in 1958.

Of Japanese studios, Shochiku takes special care of its heritage. But it is an uphill battle, for Shochiku and other companies, to interest modern-day audiences. “The Only Son” has sold more tickets in France than most classic films do in Japan, Moriguchi said.

Shochiku is planning a three-city Ozu tribute in Japan this November, marking the 110th anniversary of the director’s birth, he added.

“French audiences love Japanese classics, more than Japanese people themselves,” Moriguchi argued. Ozu titles are already distributed by The Criterion Collection in the U.S. and Carlotta Films in France. So Moriguchi is in Lyon to explore market opportunities for a huge swathe of Shochiku heritage titles – which also include works by Kenji Mizoguchi, Hiroshi Shimizu and Yoji Yamada  - and to study emerging models in the classic film business.

“I want to know the reasons behind the success of classic films abroad, the secret,” Moriguchi said.

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