Nikkatsu warming to a world of opportunities

Nikkatsu @ 100

The big Japanese studios sell their pics abroad the way McDonalds sells salads: as a side business. For Nikkatsu, though, making — and remaking — pics for the international market is a key strategy. But it’s not always easy to put into practice, as Intl. Operations Dept. head Aki Sugihara freely admits.

An industry vet who acquired, by his own count, nearly 1,800 foreign pics for the Japanese market before coming to Nikkatsu three years ago after stints at AMG Entertainment and Warner Bros. Intl. Television Japan, Sugihara says he had to change his approach 180 degrees at the request of prexy Naoki Sato. “That is, I now have to sell from Japan to the outside world.”

His lengthy list of biz contacts in Asia and elsewhere has certainly helped. A longtime relationship with helmer with John Woo, whose pics Sugihara had bought for Japan, led to a dinner meeting with Woo’s producer Terence Chang, another industry pal he had known for decades.

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“I asked him if he’d really like to do a remake together, and he said ‘Yes,’ ” Sugihara recalls.

But COT (chain-of-title) documentation for the planned Woo remake of the 1963 Seijun Suzuki action classic “Youth of the Beast,” required getting permissions from 17 people scattered all over Japan.

“I told myself I wouldn’t give up — because president Sato asked me not to,” Sugihara reminisces with a grin.

But the effort to uncover the hidden treasure in the Nikkatsu libary will be ultimately worth it, Sugihara believes.

“More than thinking up original movies from scratch, it’s more effective to take the many hints for films in our library,” he says.

In addition to previously announced remake projects with Woo and scripter-helmer Bobby Moresco, Nikkatsu has four more in the works.

“My hope is to make two titles every year for the next 10 years with Hollywood producers,” Sugihara says. “In addition to Hollywood producers we aim to work with Asian producers and studios and so on.”

As that comment indicates, another promising source of new revenue for Nikkatsu lies in Asian countries — particularly India, which has a huge domestic biz, that, as Sugihara notes “is also looking for new material.”

But instead simply pushing remake deals on its Indian partners, Nikkatsu is building deeper relationships with them by buying Indian pics for release in Japan, with four set to open in 2013.

“We taking our first step in our business relationship with them,” says Sugihara. “We’re getting a foothold.”

The reason for the Indian focus is obvious, Sugihara explains: “The market there is picking up and the middle class is gaining power, so they will be good consumers. Also, Indian companies share the same mentality with us: They want to produce films for the world market.”

Including consumers of pics in which local reincarnations of Nikkatsu’s Japanese gangsters snack on pakora instead of sushi.

Nikkatsu @ 100
Innovative firm mines storied past | Toppers warming to a world of opportunities | Thriving and surviving a tumultuous century

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