Gaga greenlights growth

Distribution company seeks AFM buys

In a 50/50 split, the Japanese distrib will partner with Warner Bros. Japan to release “District 9” in the territory. (QED Intl. sold the film worldwide; Sony had many international territories, and TriStar released in the U.S.)

The deal is significant given that indie film sales to Japan have been scarce. The distribution sector there has been rocked by tough times, with several indies facing bankruptcy.

Yoda recently rebooted Gaga with a $25 million cash infusion. In July, Yoda led a management buyout with a new financial partner, real estate entrepreneur Naoya Kinoshita. Yoda called the move a “reset” for the company and added that Gaga would go back to its

“aggressive practices,” meaning more acquisitions and a stepped-up release slate.

After a year of laying low with no acquisitions, Yoda said he expects to buy three to five films for Gaga during the American Film Market.

Yoda said Gaga has 12 titles to release through August 2010 and will be looking to fill its slate for the end of the year and 2011.

Distrib’s new slate includes Swedish thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Jacques Perrin’s “Oceans,” and Focus’ animated “9” and “Coraline.”

In September, Gaga was the No. 10 distrib in the territory behind the U.S. studio arms and the major Japanese distribs, such as Shochiku and Toei. Gaga’s 2009 box office cume to October stood at $59.4 million.

Gaga released “My Sister’s Keeper” in early October. Yoda noted that the film “should have done better” but that the release of Michael Jackson phenom “This Is It” cut into its grosses.

Yoda predicted that imports will make a comeback in Japan, where local pics have been dominating the box office for some time. He said there are audiences in Japan for English-language films and quality pics from Europe.

Yoda has been on Gaga’s board since 2000. Five years ago, he restructured the ailing company with Japanese media and communications group Usen. When Usen decided to divest this year, Yoda took over the company. His financial partner Kinoshita is a 44-year-old film buff who has made several investments in film production. He’s mainly invested in Japanese films but also has equity in French docu “Oceans.”

Aside from Gaga, Yoda also runs the Tokyo Film Festival. He took the reins of the fest last year and has brought a decidedly environmental mindset to the event. At last year’s fest, he introduced the “green carpet,” made out of recycled plastic bottles. Hoping to inspire more environmental awareness in Japan as well as globally, he’s launched various fund-raising efforts through the festival to help finance eco projects around the world.

At AFM, Yoda sports something green every day. On Saturday, he wore his green and silver Tokyo festival pin on his green blazer; underneath, a shirt with green stripes. Friday, it was bright green pants.

With his new energetic buying spree, it also seems he’s bringing a different kind of green to the film marketplace.

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