Shochiku preems ambitious slate

Co. offering up 'Quill,' 'Casshern' at fest

TOKYO — It’s a good year for Japan at Cannes. Two Japanese films are in the official competition, including the impressive animated “Innocence,” which goes up against “Shrek 2.”

Export marketing organization Jetro is supporting a bigger Japanese promotional presence at the market. And Shochiku brings one of its biggest slates of films ever to the Croisette.

“We have had a lot of international inquiries for our main film ‘Casshern,’ ” says Satoko Ishida, manager of Shochiku’s international department. The manga-based sci-fi/fantasy by rookie feature film helmer Kazuaki Kiriya, best known for his stylish musicvideos and photography, opened in Japan in late April and took an astonishing $1.54 million B.O. in its first two days on only 181 screens.

The pic premieres in the Cannes market in a subtitled version.

Another major Cannes offering, and a market first from Shochiku, is “Quill,” the saga of a Labrador retriever pup taught to be a seeing-eye dog. Directed by Yoichi Sai, usually known for grittier content, pic did decent business in Japan in the spring, mostly fueled by a general pet boom here and the fascination with seeing-eye dogs.

Veteran helmer and Oscar nominee Yoji Yamada’s new feature “Kakushi Ken — Oni No Tsume” (unofficial translation: “The Samurai’s Hidden Sword”) recently wrapped production. Based on a novel by Shuhei Fujisawa, who also wrote the book from which Yamada’s Oscar entry “The Twilight Samurai” took its story, “Kakushi ken” deals with the social frictions in Japan’s feudal society at the end of the country’s 250 years of self-imposed isolation. The $5 million pic will be ready for an autumn release.

Shochiku will have eight market premiere screenings and another three projects in different stages of production at Cannes.

Other major Japanese companies will have a lower profile this year. Toei will be absent, and Toho, never too aggressive in international sales, will concentrate its efforts on “Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World.”

Based on the bestselling tragedy, pic is directed by Isao Yukisada and toplines Japan’s hot star of the moment, Kou Shibasaki.

With UniJapan, the country’s official support organization of independent films, and Jetro sharing efforts and resources at the market, many smaller production companies with films not backed by one of the local majors hope for better sales opportunities.

“The government has finally recognized that film is an important export item that needs to be supported,” says a government official in Tokyo.