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‘Dark Knight’ Producer Plays Pachinko to Launch Next Franchise (EXCLUSIVE)

New venture looks at turning Japan's Pachinko machines into a new source for film and TV ideas

Hollywood has long turned to novels, comicbooks, toys and videogames as sources for films and TV shows, but could Japan’s Pachinko games be next?

“The Dark Knight” trilogy’s executive producer Michael Uslan and his son David Uslan have partnered with Icon Pictures president Takeshi Hirota to launch “Dark Eye” as a new superhero property first as a Pachinko game before turning it into a TV show and film. Idea is to introduce it to U.S. audiences once the character and conceit has been set up in Japan and established a fanbase.

“Once it’s recognized in the Japanese market, we will then bring it to the U.S. market,” Hirota told Variety.

Created by “Iron Man” co-creators Bob Layton and David Michelinie, “Dark Eye” follows the chairman of a powerful company who has two secrets: he is a hybrid human and the notorious crime fighter Night Striker.

“Dark Eye” is the first of several projects David Uslan will produce with Icon for a worldwide audience, based on both new material and existing content from Japan and the U.S. Japanese animators Takuya Wada (the videogame “Asura’s Wrath”) and Mikio Hayamizu are also developing “Dark Eye.”

Above (from left to right): Icon Pictures’ Takuya Wada and Takeshi Hirota, David Uslan, and Bob Layton.

Icon wants its first “Dark Eye” machine out in Pachinko parlors within one to two years. It’s already in talks with manufacturers to roll out the devices.

While it may seem an unusual way to launch a new entertainment property, Pachinko is widely popular in Japan, with Pachinko parlors lined with the devices that resemble stand up versions of pinball machines throughout the country’s cities. Each has a theme, often featuring anime characters. But more recently they’ve expanded to include “Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Popeye,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “KISS.”

Those based on anime titles like “Evangelion,” “Kaiji,” “Fist of the North Star” and have been used introduce new characters or plot points through the machines, and there’s a weekly TV series that features new Pachinko machines each week.

There’s also the financial upside. Pachinko machines based on “Evangelion” have sold more than 250,000 units. Each machine typically costs around $5,000 each. There also have been bidding wars for the rights to titles worth over 1 billion yen. “Fist of the North Star” reportedly generated over $2 billion when the Pachinko game sold over 600,000 units.

“We wanted to shift the structure of how these machines are made,” Hirota said. But the appeal of launching “Dark Eye” as a Pachinko game first was also “because no one has done it before.”

Icon will promote the “Dark Eye” game through TV commercials and through print ads in magazines. Many Pachinko games have their own magazines that discuss the properties and give gamers tips on how to win.

Since Pachinko games are a form of gambling, gamers under 18 can’t play the machines.

To play, a metal ball is dropped down a board which triggers the release of smaller balls. The highest number of balls determines how much money a player collects. During each round, animation unspools.

The co-venture between Icon and David Uslan is part of Cool Japan, the Japanese government’s economic stimulus program that supports cultural exports from fashion, anime, vidoegames, food and music.

In addition to “Dark Eye,” David Uslan is producing The Hub’s animated series “Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch.” Michael Uslan is currently developing “Doc Savage” with Sony Pictures and Original Films.

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