×

Producer casts wider net

Yasuhiro Mase takes Japan's box office crown

TOKYO — TV networks have produced most of the hit commercial pics in Japan for the past decade — and Fuji TV has long been the leader, with its motion picture department head Chihiro Kameyama as the reigning box office guru.

His 2003 cop thriller, “Bayside Shakedown II,” holds the B.O. record for a live-action domestic pic: $170 million.

But archrival Tokyo Broadcasting System, under pic production chief Yasuhiro Mase, has wrested away Fuji’s B.O. crown.

In the past year it has released “Departures,” the Oscar-winning drama that scored a stupendous $60 million, and high school baseball drama “Rookies.” Based on a TBS show, it’s on track to earn $85 million, making it the biggest domestic hit of the year.

Where Fuji pics bear Kameyama’s creative stamp, including his preference for fast-paced plotting and dislike of onscreen death, TBS’ pics are more diverse and less formulaic.

“There’s nothing you can call a TBS style,” Mase says. “We’re in business to make successful films — that’s it.”

Mase produced “Departures,” a pic that he describes as an “adventure for us.” Its unconventional subject matter — the hero finds happiness in preparing corpses for funerals — made it a tough sell. “I ran into a lot of opposition — people wondered what the target audience was,” Mase says.

But Mase pushed the film through and was vindicated when “Departures” won the best foreign-language Oscar this year and became a box office smash. “I’m just a lucky guy, that’s the only way I can explain it,” he says.

One example of this luck was the skedding glitch that set back the release of “Departures” by nearly a year to September.

“When the film finally came out, a lot of people in Japan were in the same situation as the film’s hero — looking for work after being restructured out of a job,” Mase says. Mase joined TBS in 1982 and rose up the ranks as a news producer before joining TBS’ pic production unit in 1998.

One of his passions is pop music — he scouts acts for his pics at clubs and concerts — and his style reflects it. Rather than the gray suits of Japan’s corporate elite, Mase prefers designer denims — embroidered dragons optional — while his clean-shaven head, often topped by a spiffy cap, makes him a standout in any crowd.

Mase personally produces one pic a year, while the other four members of his production team handle the rest of TBS’ slate — 10 pics for 2009 — under his supervision.

Among his credits are “Secret” (1999), the fantasy drama that introduced him to “Departures” helmer Yojiro Takita and star Ryoko Hirosue. The pic, in which a mother and daughter switch bodies in a traffic accident, attracted the attention of Luc Besson, who produced the 2007 remake “Si j’etais toi.” Mase and Besson also partnered to make “Wasabi,” a 2001 thriller starring Jean Reno and Hirosue.

“One of the biggest challenges for me has been finding directors who can do both comedy and drama,” he says. “There just aren’t that many like that in Japan.”

One was Takita, who gave “Departures” its blend of laughs and tears; another was Tetsuya Nakashima, whose 2006 “Memories of Matsuko” leavened his heroine’s sad story with colorful CG and blackly comic musical numbers.

Mase, however, denies any aspirations to becoming an auteur. His first and foremost priority is the health of TBS’ bottom line, and if a project contributes to that goal, he’ll make it.

But pressed, he admits to a filmmaking philosophy: “We’re making human dramas that can connect with audiences. My job is to support the people who are good at doing that.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Inside the Spider-Man Split: Finger-Pointing and Executive Endgames

    Spider-Man’s neighborhood has been decidedly unfriendly this week. A private and contentious battle over the onscreen future of the beloved Marvel superhero has spilled out into the public square over the past few days. After making nice for two wildly successful films, Sony Pictures, which holds the licensing rights to the Marvel character, will go [...]

  • Variety Announces 10 Actors to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Actors to Watch for 2019

    Variety has announced its 10 Actors to Watch for 2019, an honor the publication has bestowed since 1998. Past honorees include many future Oscar winners and nominees, such as Mahershala Ali, Timothée Chalamet, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Brie Larson, Lupita Nyong’o and Melissa Leo. This year’s honorees will be feted in the Oct. 27 issue of [...]

  • August Maturo

    Film News Roundup: August Maturo to Star in Horror Movie 'Slapface'

    In today’s film news roundup, August Maturo gets a starring role and “Death of Me” and “Fatale” find homes. CASTING “Girl Meets World” star August Maturo has been cast as the lead character in the upcoming indie horror feature, “Slapface.” Maturo will play a boy who deals with the loss of his mother by creating [...]

  • Dan Trachtenberg

    Tom Holland's 'Uncharted' Movie Loses Director

    Dan Trachtenberg has exited the director’s chair for Sony’s “Uncharted” movie starring Tom Holland, with the studio taking meetings with top filmmakers and production starting early next year. The studio confirmed Trachtenberg’s departure Thursday. It also said Sony-based PlayStation Productions — headed by Asad Qizilbash and Carter Swan — had come on to produce alongside [...]

  • Participant Taps Anikah McLaren, Robert Kessel

    Participant Taps Anikah McLaren, Robert Kessel to Head Film Department

    Participant Media has named industry veterans Anikah McLaren and Robert Kessel as co-heads of the company’s film department with the titles of executive vice president. Both executives will report together to Participant CEO David Linde, who made the announcement Thursday. McLaren joins Participant having most recently served as a production executive for Fox Searchlight Pictures. [...]

  • 'The Son' Review: Bosnian Family Drama

    Sarajevo Film Review: 'The Son'

    It is a mixed blessing to be born in the aftermath of a war. On the one hand, you never have to experience the terror and suffering your parents did; on the other, you grow up with your own personal crises forever made to feel smaller by comparison. That, at least, is the frustration driving [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: Jennifer Lopez 'Hustlers' Heading for $25 Million Launch

    STX Entertainment’s “Hustlers,” a comedic thriller about strip-club employees seeking revenge, is expected to earn $25 million when it opens on Sept. 13, according to early tracking. The movie — starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Cardi B and Lizzo — will debut alongside Warner Bros.’ “The Goldfinch.” The drama, based on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content