Seiji Horibuchi, co-chairman of Viz Media LLC, took the time to answer a number of questions from ICv2 about his company's initiatives in releasing live action films from Japan.  The growing interest in films from Japan, China, Korea and Thailand is a trend that ICv2 has been noting for the past couple of years and plans to cover more extensively in the future.


Does Viz Media have a separate division handling the live action films?

Viz Pictures, which is an affiliate of Viz Media LLC, releases all live action films theatrically, Viz Media 'distributes' the DVD of those films.


How many live action movies does Viz Media plan to release in 2007?

Viz Pictures will be releasing approximately seven live action feature films in 2007.  Viz Media will distribute the DVDs.


What types (genres) of films are these 2007 releases?

Films from Viz Pictures are focused on Japanese 'kawaii (cute) and cool' pop culture.


Can you name and describe some of the seven Viz Pictures releases slated for this year?

Train Man: Densha Otoko, based on the bestselling book by Hitori Nakano, is a romantic comedy that follows a computer engineer otaku (the Japanese term for 'geek') who falls in love with a beautiful woman. Directed by Shosuke Murakami, it's available on DVD, and a graphic novel of the story is also available from VIZ Media.


Linda Linda Linda is a comedy about an all-girl high school rock band coping with an untimely break-up. Only three days before their high school festival, the guitarist, drummer and bassist are forced to recruit a Korean exchange student as the new lead vocalist for their band. Directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita, it's available on DVD.


The Taste of Tea is a unique comedy about the Harunos, an unconventional but happy and loving family. While 8-year old Sachiko tries to get rid of a giant version of herself who seems to pop up everywhere, her older brother Hajime privately wrestles with his love-struck heart. Directed by Katsuhito Ishii, who also directed Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl and the animated segment in Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1, the DVD will be in stores on July 3.


Ping Pong is a sports comedy about two friends, their two mentors and the opponents they face at high school tournaments. It explores the different motivations and philosophies towards the sport of table tennis and wonderfully portrays the excitement and subtleties of the sport. Based on the bestselling comic by Taiyo Matsumoto and directed by Sori, the DVD will be available on September 4.


Hula Girls is a comedy based on a true story about coal miners' daughters who take an once-in-a-lifetime chance to escape their monotonous lives, only to become unwitting heroes to their depressed mining town as well as the whole of Japan. Directed by LEE Sang-il, the movie is scheduled to open theatrically on July 13 in NY and Chicago.


Gackt: The Greatest Filmography 1999-2006 Red/Blue contains Japanese Pop Star Gackt's musical short films (music videos) that have been released between 1999 to 2006, as two different products: Red and Blue. Each disc contains 12 music videos which are subtitled in English. The DVD release is scheduled for October 2007.


Honey and Clover, based on the bestselling comic by Chika Umino, is a romantic comedy about a group of art school students who try to scrape by, barely earning enough money to buy food and pay their rent. But as soon as an innocent and talented new student enters their lives, things get a lot more complicated as love triangles result. Directed by Masahiro Takada, the theatrical release is scheduled for Fall 2007.


How extensive will the theatrical releases of Viz Media's live action films be?

Viz Pictures normally screens each film theatrically in anywhere from 7-15 markets across the country before Viz Media distributes the DVD.


How do you determine which markets will receive theatrical releases of Viz Pictures films?

It depends on the titles, but we're targeting select markets only, so for theatrical releases, we basically work with art-house theatres in select cities (NY, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Atlanta, etc.), or those that are willing to screen unrated foreign movies with English subtitles. Most of these theatres are owner-operated or non-profits.

We' re still trying to expand our markets, but it's been difficult to book theatres, even in the Los Angeles area. Generally speaking, it is still surprisingly difficult to market foreign films in this country, which is very unfortunate. However, for some titles like Linda Linda Linda, we've received booking inquiries from theatres we've never worked with before, and it turned out very well. Even though it is now available on DVD, we're still getting calls from theatres, film festivals, and even general fans hoping to bring the movie to their town.  So I can say that our movies can go anywhere on demand.


Is the purpose of the theatrical release to stimulate reviews and interest in the DVD release?

Of course both Viz Media and Viz Pictures hope the theatrical screenings will generate interest for the DVD release, but we also want to give fans the opportunity to see these great films on the big screen.


With the growing interest in Japanese pop culture do you think that some of these films may get exposure on cable or satellite TV here in North America?

Yes. We're currently in discussion with some cable channels already.  Kamikaze Girls has been aired on AZN television. Also we' re expecting to get more of our titles exposed not only on TV, but also on Internet broadcasting channels. We've obtained the Internet broadcasting rights for Hula Girls, so we're planning to release this title on the digital distribution channels in the near future.


What about some of the properties that Viz Media has publishing/anime rights for -- do you plan to release the Nana live action movie for example, or the Death Note live action movie?

In most cases, movie licensor rights are different from those for publishing/anime titles, even for the same titles, which always makes the task difficult.  But we're willing to release titles that Viz Media has other rights for, like we did for Kamikaze Girls and Train Man: Densha OtokoWe're very excited to release the live action of Honey and Clover along with VIZ Media's graphic novels and anime. We're still in discussion for Nana and Death Note movies.


We acquire live-action movies only when the pricing is appropriate in consideration of the market size.  That's all we can say here so far.


How do these live action releases tie in with your growing number of anime DVD releases?

It allows Viz Media to make other forms of Japanese film entertainment available to fans.


Is Viz Pictures planning to release any live action horror (or kaiju) type of films?

Viz Pictures has no plans to release any live action horror films at this time.


What is the goal of Viz Media in regards to these live action releases?

The goal always is to continue to offer the most entertaining live action motion pictures with focus on Japanese pop culture straight from Japan for audiences of all ages in North America.