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Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Hit-maker doesn't allow reality to drown a damn good story

The Fuji TV producer of the two megahit "Odoru Daisosasen (Bayside Shakedown)" films, Chihiro Kameyama, has been called the Japanese Jerry Bruckheimer: a hit-maker who takes an active role in every stage of production, from script development and casting to postproduction, and has a miracle box-office touch his rivals can only envy.

Discussing his latest film, the World War II submarine thriller "Lorelei," with The Japan Times, he was relaxed and cordial, but his words shot out in machinegun bursts, with the assurance of someone who knows what he's about -- and wants his listener to know it too.

Are you going to make an international version of "Lorelei" for foreign release?

No. We used all the footage for the Japanese version -- so there's nothing left for an international version. We're actively selling it abroad, though, starting with the Berlin Film Festival.

"Lorelei" has some elements in common with other submarine movies, but it's more manga- esque. The girl with the supernatural powers . . .

[Yu Kashi] had a hard time with that role. I don't think of ["Lorelei"] as a war movie -- it's more like an animation. It's not supposed to reflect reality.

The story, though, does seem to have a message for young Japanese who know nothing of the war. It seems to be saying that there are reasons to be proud of the sacrifices those submariners made, that there are lessons to be learned from what they did.

The war itself was a reality and so was Japan's defeat -- postwar Japan was shaped by those realties. But now we're living comfortable, peaceful lives. The question is, how much do Japanese today remember of what happened 60 years ago? How can they preserve the peace we've had all these years, if they don't know what happened then?

The [submariners] then were fighting to protect Japan, to save their country. Are we Japanese today as willing to do the same? Are we as willing to contribute to the safety of Japan? I wanted to include that message in the dialogue. But "Lorelei" is not a prowar movie -- it's just the opposite.

The film shows the two sides, the Japanese submariners and the American sailors pursuing them, as respecting each other. The Americans are the enemy, of course -- but you don't show them as inferior.

Both sides are tired of war. The Japanese are, of course, but the American captain also clearly says, "I hate this war."

We worked together with American staff in making the film. Both sides were of the generation that doesn't remember the war. We were all human beings, working on the same project. It was a moving experience for me as a producer, to have shared that.

I told them as a joke that I was embarrassed because America loses in the end. (Laughs). They told me they were also embarrassed about the atomic bombings. But we worked well together as professionals and did a good job, I think. I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish.

How do you recognize a good idea?

When I read material, I'm thinking in terms of images. How will this look on the screen? A very interesting story may be very difficult to film. On the other hand, you can imagine images that are more interesting than the original story. One example is the way Tara -- the home of Scarlett O'Hara -- was portrayed in "Gone With the Wind." It became symbolic in the film it a way it wasn't in the book.

I don't think that most people reading the book could have imagined how [Tara] would look on the screen. The look of that film surpassed the novel.

Are there any projects you regret missing out or passing on?

No regrets. If something doesn't click, it doesn't click. Instead, I find it interesting to see what other people have done with stories we didn't think were right for us.

Are there any good original ideas left?

We usually make films from material that is brought to us, I prefer original ideas, though. I would like to make more films based on original ideas -- I'm always on the lookout for them.

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