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Scorsese on Japan mob pic; Douglas awaiting ‘Traffic’

After covering Italian mobsters in Las Vegas (“Casino”) and New York (“Goodfellas”), Martin Scorsese and Nick Pileggi are turning to Japan, where an American-born Italian became a post WWII mob kingpin.

And they’ve drafted Jason Cahill to write the script. (Cahill won the Writers Guild Award for his work on “The Sopranos.”)

DreamWorks has optioned Robert Whiting’s Pantheon book “Tokyo Underworld” for a feature to be overseen by the “Goodfellas” duo and produced by Harry and Mary Jane Ufland. Cahill will work with Pileggi on writing the script. Pileggi will exec produce with Scorsese, who’s eyeing the film as a potential directing vehicle.

Nick Zappetti was a 22-year old Marine sergeant stationed in Japan who turned post-WWII Japan into a booming black market business. He became king of the payoff and had soldiers sending home more than their salaries. Somehow, 800,000 carats of diamonds turned over to the Army by the Bank of Japan vanished, and so did every weapon turned over by the Tokyo police force. Zappetti eventually graduated to the pizzeria business, opening an eatery as popular with mobsters as it was for Japanese royalty and touring actors like John Wayne and Frank Sinatra. “He was like Sgt. Bilko and had the spectacular timing to arrive and take advantage when there was total chaos after the war,” said Harry Ufland.

Zappetti eventually lost his fortune to four Japanese ex-wives, and, while embittered by the country that made his fortune, he was still respected by the pols and corporate heads who drove him out of business.

Pileggi and Scorsese are currently collaborating on “Dino,” the Dean Martin biopic to star Tom Hanks at Warner Bros.

Whiting will be a consultant and was repped in the book deal by ICM’s Binky Urban and Alicia Gordon, before the latter moved to William Morris. Pileggi’s repped by CAA, Scorsese by AMG and Cahill by Cory Concoff of the Bauer Company.

DOUGLAS WAITING IN “TRAFFIC”: Michael Douglas is negotiating to join fiancee Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Traffic,” the Steven Soderbergh-directed drama about the drug trade to be distributed by Fox Searchlight.

If the deal closes, the engaged couple will work together onscreen for the first time, in characters on opposite sides of the drug war to control the importation of cocaine and heroin into the U.S. from Mexico. Douglas will play the role of a judge who retires to become the U.S. drug czar, whose hardline stance against drug users is sorely tested when his teenage daughter gets hooked on crack cocaine and heroin and becomes a helpless captive to the lowest elements of the drug business, who sell her sexual services in exchange for feeding her drug habit. With a potential political disaster on his hands, the father must keep the matter quiet while trying to locate his missing daughter. He also begins to realize the size of the problem in seeing how easily the insidious drug has invaded his upscale household.

It is a risky role, one which Harrison Ford and then Kevin Costner both were very interested in playing. Douglas seems a strong choice to keep together the package, which comes at a time when Soderbergh is about to open “Erin Brockovich,” the Julia Roberts-starrer that’s poised to give the director his biggest commercial hit yet. Douglas doesn’t actually share a scene with Zeta-Jones in the ensemble, which was inspired by the British miniseries “Traffik.” Zeta-Jones will play the wife of a drug kingpin whose life is left in shambles when her husband heads for prison. Slowly, she begins to take over his operation and finds that she has a certain zeal for a bloodthirsty job. Zeta-Jones and Douglas are expecting their first child, and her pregnant state will be worked into the plot of the film.

The film is scripted by Steve Gaghan and produced by Laura Bickford and Bedford Falls partners Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. Fox Searchlight president Peter Rice has been working with financiers IEG to keep the project together after the exit of Ford. Douglas is repped by William Morris.

FUHRMAN GETS MOVIE DEAL: Mark Fuhrman, the former LAPD detective tarnished during the O.J. Simpson trial, has used his sleuthing skills to reinvent himself as a nonfiction author. Fuhrman’s recent book “Murder in Connecticut,” has just sold to Columbia TriStar TV for an MOW to be developed for Fox TV. That book was Fuhrman’s account of the murder of Martha Moxley, a crime for which Michael Skakel was recently charged. The film will be produced by Rachel and Judith Verno (“Long Island Incident”) and Fuhrman, with Bernie Sofronski (“Into Thin Air”) exec producing.

Fuhrman also will be a special consultant for ABC News on the Moxley case, and serve in an advisory capacity for an upcoming episode of CBS’s “48 Hours” focusing on the case, per his manager, Lynda Bensky. She’s positioning him as a franchise author who’ll selectively investigate and write books about newsworthy cases. Fuhrman’s already working on his third, in concert with Gotham journalist Steve Weeks, for HarperCollins.

“CIDER HOUSE” BOOSTED BY OSCAR: Recent media reports labelling the Best Picture Oscar race a dead heat between “American Beauty” and “Cider House Rules” seem based on little more than persuasive press agenting. But there’s little dispute about how Miramax has turned its Oscar nominated films into box office gold whether they win or not. “Cider House Rules,” which just expanded from 800 to 1750 screens, has gone from $23 million to nearly $40 million since getting nominated. This follows a tradition that began with “The Crying Game,” whose $15.7 million gross shot up to $62.5 million following its nomination. Recently, “Good Will Hunting” went from $70 million to $138 million; “Il Postino” went from $10.6 million to $21.8 million; “The English Patient” went from $42 million to $78.6 million. Last year, “Life is Beautiful” went from $18.8 million to $57.6 million and Best Picture winner “Shakespeare in Love” went from $36 million to $78 million after the nomination, and ascended to $100 million after winning the trophy.

KING GETS “PEARL HARBOR”: While director Michael Bay continues to search for the female lead for “Pearl Harbor,” that search has resulted in the casting of newcomer James King for a supporting role in the $135 million Disney film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. King recently completed the New Line film “Happy Campers” and will play Johnny Depp’s daughter in “Blow” for Ted Demme. She auditioned for the lead female “Pearl Harbor” role, Bay felt she was too young, but made her that character’s best friend instead. King is agented by ICM’s Nick Styne and Carter Cohn and managed by Robert Flutie of Flutie Ent.

CASTING CONVERGENCES?: Now that Disney has proven there is box office life on the red planet with “Mission to Mars,” comes word that a neat cast is in the offing for another expedition, “John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars,” a pic orbiting Screen Gems. Dish hears Courtney Love looks likely for the role of a butt-kicking leader of a expedition to Mars, Whoopi Goldberg is a possible as a science officer. They go to the planet planning to hunt down a guy alleged to have killed his fellow colonists in atrocities actually committed by an army of colonists possessed by a homicidal ghost of an ancient Mars civilization. The framed guy helps the team kick Martian tail. Dish hears Carpenter wants Jason Statham for the male lead. He starred in the Guy Ritchie-directed “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” and just wrapped Ritchie’s followup “Diamonds” with Brad Pitt. Screen Gems favored a better known lead, though other studios are kicking the tires … As Tom Shadyac chooses his next pic — “Dragonfly” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” are the faves — an intriguing dark horse candidate has emerged: “King of the Park,” the Universal-based true story of street comic Charlie Barnett. He got a starmaking job on “Saturday Night Live” only to lose it because he was illiterate. The job went to Eddie Murphy instead. Barnett went on to some fame on “Miami Vice,” before his heroin habit led him to an HIV infected needle, which caused his downfall. Pic’s about his mentoring of comic Dave Chappelle, who’d play himself in the pic, with Martin Lawrence possible for the role of Barnett. Script was written by Vince McKewin, and rewritten by David Seltzer, the latter of whom is managed by Evolution’s Mark Burg and Oren Koules.

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