Acclaimed and controversial Filipino director Brillante Mendoza has set “Chameleon,” the fact-based tale of a transgender woman who joins the Japanese underworld, as his next movie to direct.

“Chameleon” is inspired by the true story of a Filipino transgender woman, Marie, who is drawn into the Yakuza gangster life after befriending Ai, the rebellious daughter of a powerful Yakuza boss. Set against the pulsating background of the 1990s nightlife in Sapporo, Hokkaido, the film charts the almost impossible decisions Marie faced and her tumultuous journey to discovering family, love and ultimately her true identity.

The film is now in pre-production ahead of a February 2023 start of production in Sapporo. Delivery is anticipated in time for the fall festival season.

While auditioning for the lead character is ongoing, a confirmed Japanese cast include Okuda Eiji ( “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Born Bone Born”), Ihara Tsuyoshi (“13 Assassins”, “Letter from Iwo Jima”), Takeda Rina (“Attack on Titan”, “High-Kick Girl!”), and Shogen (“Gensan Punch,” “December”).

“Chameleon” is being produced by Yamashita Takahiro of Japan’s Yaman Films, Krisma Maclang Fajardo of The Philippines’ Center Stage Productions and Fumie Suzuki Lancaster of the U.K.’s SC Films International. It is executive-produced by Yoshi and written by Troy Espiritu, who previously wrote Mendoza’s Cannes competition film “Ma’ Rosa.”

The same cluster of producers previously collaborated on Mendoza’s boxing biopic “Gensan Punch,” which won the Kim Jiseok Award at the 2021 Busan International Film Festival and was picked up by HBO for worldwide release. Yaman and SC Films were also previously behind “December” with “Gensan Punch” star Shogen.

“When I first heard Marie’s story, I was truly convinced it was one that deserved a compelling cinematic narrative. As she shared this colorful recollection of her young life as a transgender nightclub performer in Japan, I was instantly and hopelessly captivated. I knew instantly that her journey as a transwoman was a saga that many people would recognize parts of themselves in,” said Mendoza.

“As a filmmaker, it was imperative for me to ensure that this aspect of Marie’s story be framed in the most organic and truthful cinematic tone. Marie and Ai’s story delicately unfolds many truths in ‘Chameleon,’ truths that affirm how a person may transcend beyond gender preference and sexuality, to fully understand and experience what it means to be human.”

Mendoza has one of the strongest track records of any Asian director currently working, but remains controversial. He has been applauded by influential U.S. filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Sean Penn, but other critics have labelled his social realist style as sensationalist and exploitative.

He was named best director at Cannes in 2009 for his “Kinatay” and has won numerous awards for titles including Venice festival entry “Thy Womb” which featured a real childbirth, and “Tirador” which debuted at Berlin in 2008.

Mendoza is especially appreciated in Japan. His films have regularly been selected for the Tokyo International Film Festival and he was the event’s jury president in 2018.