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Weekend Beat/ BOOKS & CULTURE/ MIXED MEDIA: Authors writing for the big screen are hitting the big time
By KENSUKE NONAMI, The Asahi Shimbun

Astring of unique movies will come out this year, unique because popular writers are deeply involved in the adaptation process, almost to the point of becoming part of the production crew.

The truth is that more writers are producing books with film adaptations in mind, going so far as to bring out a book that they know will ``vie'' with the movie version.

In the entertainment hierarchy, novels were once considered a notch above other forms of expression. Movie producers would ``ask permission'' to adapt a novel to the screen. The opposite process, the novelization of a movie, was viewed as inferior.

But that relationship may be changing now that writers actively supply ideas, compose especially for the screen and produce their own screenplays.

The current darling of the film industry is writer Harutoshi Fukui. Three movies with the Fukui stamp are due out this year alone.

The first to hit the theaters, ``Rorerai'' (Lorelei-the Witch of the Pacific Ocean), starring Koji Yakusho and Satoshi Tsumabuki, opens March 5. The original book's title is ``Shusen no Rorerai'' (Lorelei at the End of the War).

Coming out in June will be ``Sengoku Jieitai 1549'' (Warring States Self-Defense Forces 1549), followed by ``Bokoku no Ijisu'' (Aimless Aegis). All three movies have a military theme and list Fukui as the original writer, though his involvement varied with the film.

Fukui wrote the book that was adapted for the film ``Aimless Aegis.''

``Sengoku Jieitai 1549'' is an adaptation of Fukui's new book, a reworking of Ryo Hanmura's novel ``Sengoku Jieitai.''

As for ``Rorelei,'' Fukui was there from the start, when the movie was still in the conception stage. He ended up writing the original story.

According to Fukui, when he was approached by movie director Shinji Higuchi, he thought he would be asked to write an adaptation of the novel ``Bokoku no Ijisu'' for the movie ``Aimless Aegis.''

Fukui said: ``But I was wrong. The director wanted me to write something along that line for a [new] movie. We were drinking, and I said yes.

``Soon, he's bombarding me with suggestions, things like World War II, a submarine, a love interest, and we are talking plot. Before I know it, we are tossing ideas back and forth and I'm involved.

``What I can say is that if this had been just a book, I don't think I would have written about a world war or submarines.''

Morio Amagi, one of the producers of ``Rorelei,'' said: ``A writer would think that `Aimless Aegis' is a pretty adaptable book. But if you try to adapt a book that is perfect to the screen, the adaptation can never outdo the original work. When I explained this, [Fukui] agreed to take on [the movie writing project].''

Actually Fukui loves movies, admitting, ``I began writing military novels with the hope of coming up with a kind of Hollywood action flick.''

He proudly acknowledges his pedigree: ``I'm part of the first generation of writers to feel completely comfortable with anime comics.''

Fukui has no qualms about citing animator Yoshiyuki Tomino, creator of the popular ``Gundam'' films and TV series, whose heroes are anthropomorphic war machines, as a major influence.

Amagi is not surprised: ``It's not only Fukui. All the writers now in their 30s and 40s, who are the backbone of the current literary world, grew up watching television.

``They come from a generation whose culture centers around film and television images. They are comfortable reading books, while creating visual images inside their heads.''

Take ``Female,'' a film due out early this summer.

The movie is a compilation of five short works by five directors, based on erotica penned by five very popular contemporary women writers, including Mariko Koike and Kaoruko Himeno.

Munehiro Umemura, from Sega Corp., which produced the movie, said: ``We scoured novels and comics but couldn't come up with anything suitable. We decided, `Why not go with an original?' and started asking Naoki Prize winners if they'd be interested.

``We were surprised that many writers complied without much fuss.''

Umemura added: ``All five authors are very interested in film. Koike was visualizing images as she wrote her piece, while Himeno put together her segment to challenge the filmmakers, as if saying, `Just try adapting this to the screen.'

``The completed work is a kind of talent contest.''

The pieces, published last year in the monthly magazine Shosetsu Shincho, also came out as an original paperback, which became an instant hit. Sales have topped 100,000 copies.

Another movie due out next summer, ``Fly, Daddy, Fly,'' sounds like a one-man band of a film. Kazuki Kaneshiro, who won literature's Naoki Prize for his novel ``Go,'' was enthusiastic about doing the screenplay, which he then used to novelize the movie.

Things in the movie world started to change in the 1970s, when Kadokawa Pictures Inc. began adapting books by mystery and fantasy writer Seishi Yokomizo and popular author Seiichi Morimura. Those works were published by Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co., and Kadokawa struck a chord with its marketing slogan: ``It's up to you: Read first and watch later-or watch first and read later.'' The saying seems to put books and novels on an equal footing. And thanks to the movies, Yokomizo, who was not a best-selling author, soared to dazzling heights.

A popular writer's commitment to a movie is an effective tool for making the film and novel successful.

Amagi said: ``It is inevitable [for companies] to play it safe when it comes to productions of a certain size. Over the past few years, the tendency has been to go with a famous book. It's a safety net.

``But in truth, there's a shortage of powerful books that can be turned into movies.''

Hiroaki Masubayashi, a public relations manager at Toei for ``Fly, Daddy, Fly,'' said: ``The recent trend has been for many companies to invest in a movie project that can be developed into a movie-rights business, rather than the usual pattern of a single company like Kadokawa leading the project.

``In the future, if publishing houses actively come on board, we might see more screen tie-ins with writers.''(IHT/Asahi: March 5,2005)


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