WB imports Tokyo toon ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’

Master of games aiming to conquer bigscreen

Warner Bros. is hoping to match the success of its “Pokemon” pics with a film based on its latest Japanese animated import, “Yu-Gi-Oh.”

The “Yu-Gi-Oh” franchise is handled by “Pokemon” licensing agent 4Kids and is being produced by 4Kids Prods. president Norman Grossfeld. Warner Bros. is in negotiations to acquire worldwide distribution rights (excluding Asia) to the film, which is currently in production in Japan.

“Yu-Gi-Oh” has already spawned trading cards, toys and vidgames that are selling briskly on these shores, as well as a hit TV show for the Kids’ WB Saturday kidtoon lineup.

Franchise is based on a Japanese comicbook about a boy who gains magical powers and transforms into Yu-Gi-Oh (roughly translated: Master of Games) when he plays a card game involving dueling monsters.

“Yu-Gi-Oh” is aimed at kids 10 and older — a slightly older demographic than “Pokemon.”

Stateside release of the pic is expected next summer, and Warner Bros. will be giving away collectible trading cards with movie tickets via a promotional tie-in.

The “Pokemon” franchise is estimated to have raked in close to $15 billion worldwide. WB released the first three of the four “Pokemon” pics — “Pokemon: The First Movie” which grossed $85.7 million domestically on release in 1999; “Pokemon: The Movie 2000,” which took $43.8 million domestically; and “Pokemon 3: The Movie,” $17.1 million domestically. Miramax Films’ “Pokemon: The 4th Movie” grossed only $1.7 million theatrically.

Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman is overseeing the pic and will conclude a final deal within the next two weeks with 4Kids Entertainment CEO Alfred Kahn and Grossfeld.