'Nana' tough to follow for helmer Otani

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HONG KONG -- Following up the wildly popular "Nana" was always going to be a challenge, director Kentaro Otani said, but he insists he is not feeling any pressure with his new project. The key, he said, is to do something completely different.

A disorderly queue formed Monday morning outside the Hong Kong -- Asia Film Financing Forum booth where Otani and producer Ryosuke Mameoka were promoting "Tsutenkaku," with most people wanting to find out more about the next project of the man who brought "Nana" to the big screen in 2005.

"Nana" earned $34.7 million at the Japanese boxoffice and was snapped up by Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea, though the sequel, "Nana 2," failed to hit the same high notes.

Mika Nakashima, who plays one of the two very contrasting women called Nana in the story, was nominated for both the best actress and newcomer of the year awards at the 2006 Japanese Academy Awards.

"There's a lot of curiosity about the new title. We have had a lot of fans of the earlier film come by and they are very supportive," said Otani, who is originally from Kyoto.

"I don't feel the pressure. This time the project is very different, the scale is a little smaller, but it has much more of an edge," he said. "It's a very area-specific story, and as it is often difficult for other Japanese people to get a good understanding of people from Osaka, this is almost like taking the audience on a trip into a theme park.

"The Minami district of the city has its very own unique culture and I want to take the viewers -- both Japanese and from other Asian countries -- on an interesting ride," he said.

Otani is optimistic that he will have attracted enough interest before the end of the market to go ahead with the project, which has a $2 million budget and is based on a novel by Osaka-based author Kanako Nishi.

The movie is the rather somber tale of two Minami residents whose paths collide during a suicide attempt and who discover they are related through marriage and how their lives are changed for the better.

"When I am making a film, the most important thing is to depict the shape of people's lives," Otani said. "It is the quirkiness and charm of human beings that make a film interesting.

"In 'Nana,' even though the characters were young and foolish, I used the film to carefully outline the shape of the lives of 20-year-old girls," he said. "With 'Tsutenkaku,' I want to make a definitive piece about the shape of these peoples' lives."
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