Yakuza in the hood

Kitano's gangster pic a $10 mil co-prod'n

TOKYO — Japanese director Takeshi Kitano will explore the mean streets of Los Angeles in his next film, “Brother,” about a Japanese gangster.

Kitano will work with his largest-ever budget, $10 million. “Brother,” a co-production with Masayuki Mori of the director’s Office Kitano and Jeremy Thomas of Britain’s Recorded Picture Co., is scheduled for release in time for the 2001 New Year’s holiday in Japan.

Film will be Kitano’s ninth. Helmer took best picture at the Venice Intl. Film Festival with his 1998 movie “Hana-Bi” (Fireworks).

Epps tops

Shooting starts later this month in Tokyo and will move to Los Angeles in January. Omar Epps (“ER,” “The Wood”) will topline.

Kitano first met producer Thomas in 1983 during the filming of “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.” After a series of meetings at film festivals in London and Tokyo over the past few years, Thomas and Kitano’s production company struck their deal.

“This will be (Kitano’s) first film that will be challenging the international market,” Thomas said.

Splitting prod’n costs

Under the deal, Office Kitano will contribute half of the $10 million production cost in exchange for the distribution rights in Japan and sales rights for South and East Asia.

RPC will put up the other half of the money in exchange for global distribution rights outside of Asia. Producer Mori said he is hoping to land about $20 million at the Japanese box office.

Sib search

Pic concerns a lone wolf yakuza (Kitano) who was abandoned by his gang family after losing a mob war. He then goes to L.A. to search for his brother and hooks up with Epps as the story shifts to the strange communal life of Epps’ streetwise Angeleno, Kitano’s tough Japanese mobster and a Japanese exchange student (Claude Maki), who has wandered off the honor roll path.

Kitano said the co-production deal was born out of his long association with Thomas and added that he has “gone through a bit of culture shock” in his dealings with Hollywood.