Fox International steals 'Kiss' from Japan

Ai Yazawa cartoon series has sold more than 6 mil copies

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CANNES -- Fox International is in talks to produce a live-action movie based on a Japanese manga. The move underlines the studio's growing credentials in local-language production.

Set in the world of fashion, "Paradise Kiss" is based on a hit cartoon series by top female manga artist Ai Yazawa that is now in its fifth series and has sold more than 6 million copies. The series, published in Japan by Shodensha, has been translated into 10 languages and proved a hit through much of Asia. It is available in English through Tokyopop.

The comedy drama involves a teen girl who is seduced into becoming a catwalk model by a group of charismatic fashion students. Having fallen for the elite group's leader, she has to balance school, home, a new modeling career and a burgeoning love life.

FIP is setting up the movie adaptation as a $3 million-$4 million Japanese-language film involving prolific production house IMJ. The studio is in a position to fully finance the movie, though it is still in negotiations to create a typically Japanese "production consortium," which would involve advertising and marketing industry partners and maximize the film's marketing leverage.

Yazawa previously wrote the "Nana" manga series about two teen girls from different sides of the tracks, which went into 12 editions that sold 34 million copies and spawned two live-action movies for producer IMJ and Tokyo Broadcasting Systems. The first grossed more than $33 million.

"Paradise" was previously adapted as a 12-episode anime series, produced by Aniplex and Studio Madhouse, which was aired on Fuji TV's Noitamina programming block and elsewhere in Asia on Sony's Animax network.

The movie version of "Paradise" will be FIP's second Japanese-made film after the local-language remake of "Sideways." Now in postproduction, that movie was directed by Cellin Gluck and is set for release at the end of the year. Produced with Fuji TV, it stars "Babel" discovery Rinko Kikuchi.

Set up under Panitch a year ago, FIP has aggressively pushed the studio into local language productions, which it sees as a growing market segment in many countries around the world.

To date, FIP has signed a production deal to make Portuguese-language movies with Brazil's Total Films (which made "If I Were You 2," the highest-grossing Brazilian movie of all time), while in Asia, it is behind Fox Star Studios, a joint-venture between Fox and News Corp.'s region-wide pay TV group STAR TV. FSS is preparing three separate movie slates, in Greater China, South East Asian and India.

Other Hollywood studios, Disney and Warners in particular, are also pushing local production strategies.

Panitch argues that local films have greater growth potential than MPA studio movies in much of the world; that technology is raising quality; and that some such as "The Orphanage" have the ability to cross over for U.S. audiences.