Shochiku revs up prod’n sked

Studio plans seven to eight pics next year

Flush with coin from its cinema circuit and from co-distributing hits such as “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “Gangs of New York,” Japanese major Shochiku is ramping up film production.

The studio is cranking out five films this year and plans to make seven-eight next year, according to Masaki Koga, head of Shochiku’s international business division.

In Cannes the firm is pre-selling “Out of This World,” (working title), a 1947-set saga of a bunch of jazz musicians who dream of making the big time by entertaining GIs. Cast is headed by Peter Mullan, Joe Odagiri and Masato Hagiwara, with Junji Sakamoto (“Face”) helming.

Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao Hsien is paged to write and direct an untitled project intended as an homage to noted filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, marking the 100th anni of his birth. It’s a romance between a guy who owns a secondhand bookstore in Tokyo and a beautiful woman who appears to be a journalist researching a story.

Also in development are “Casshern,” a sci-fier from musicvid director Kazuaki Kiriya; “Quill,” tale of a seeing-eye dog and his master, to be helmed by Yoichi Sai; and samurai pix “Blade of the Immortal” and “Hakken Den.”

The biggest deal sealed at the market thus far by Shochiku is with French distrib Cine Classics, covering 70 titles from the firm’s massive library. Koga says some of those pics will be released theatrically before going out on DVD/video.

Lamenting the absence of buyers from SARS-affected territories including mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, Koga says most of the business he’s negotiating here is with European distribs.

He’s also talking to U.S. distribs about three films screening in the market: “Love Collage,” “When The Last Sword Is Drawn” and “The Twilight Samurai.”

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