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Japanese joyous over ‘Twilight’ contender

Live-action feature nom is country's first in over 22 years

TOKYO — The Japanese are elated that the Academy Awards of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has chosen the drama “Twilight Samurai” as one of the Foreign Language contenders.

“I’m really surprised,” director Yoji Yamada said during an impromptu press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday. “For any filmmaker, the Oscar is something very special.”

“Twilight Samurai” was veteran helmer Yamada’s first film in the samurai genre and enjoyed robust box office returns of $15.2 million during its Japan release in late 2002.

Telling the story of a samurai who’s forced to fight against his will, the film is almost an anti-samurai pic, emphasizing humanity over the cliché honor and blood mythos connected with Japan’s historic warriors.

This is the first nomination of a Japanese live-action feature in 22 years. “Muddy River” by Kohei Oguri made it in to the shortlist for Foreign Language kudos in 1982. The Japanese win since then was the animation “Spirited Away” last year.

For lead thesp Hiroyuki Sanada, who also played the fiercest of the samurais in “The Last Samurai,” the nomination came equally as a surprise.

“Being at the same time involved in two films dealing with Japan noticed in Hollywood is great,” he said. “This helps in keep-ing up the Japan boom.”

It certainly is a big boon for Shochiku which produced the film. Producer Hiroshi Fukazawa will be going to Los Angeles for the award ceremony. It is not clear whether the director will be able to join. Yamada will start shooting his next pic in early February, again an adaptation of a samurai story written by the author of “Twilight Samurai,” Shuhei Fujisawa.

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