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The New Players in Town

June 11, 1989|NINA J. EASTON

"The U.S. remains the source of software. Without software, communications technology is dead."

Shigeru Masuda, the venture capitalist who made that comment, isn't talking about computers, he's talking about movies. He's also talking partnership with the source--Hollywood.

The Japanese dominate the world market in manufacture and sale of "hardware"--TVs, VCRs and higher-tech incarnations to come. Now they want the "software"--movies, TV shows and other programming.

To feed the world's growing appetite for programming, most Japanese now in Hollywood are striking co-production deals. Masuda's venture capital firm, the New York-based ZERON Group, is leading a group of Japanese investing $40 million in a slate of pictures that their American partner, Vestron, will distribute. The first of these films, "Blue Steel," directed by Kathryn Bigelow and produced by Edward Pressman and Oliver Stone, is scheduled for release this fall. Jamie Lee Curtis stars.

CST Communications--formed by C. Itoh, Suntory Ltd. and Tokyo Broadcasting System--got burned by losses when it invested $15 million in three MGM/UA films. But the partners still think they can make money in Hollywood--and they're trying again with the same studio.

Shochiku-Fuji, an entertainment conglomerate that distributed "The Last Emperor," has committed $50 million to that film's producer, Jeremy Thomas, in a six-picture deal. Shochiku-Fuji is also investing in at least two films for independent producer Pressman. The first film will be "Reversal of Fortune," based on the Claus von Bulow case and starring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons.

Other Japanese investors in Hollywood include Fuji Sankei Communications, which is investing $10 million in David Puttnam productions; the advertising giant Dentsu, which made one film with Pressman and is on the lookout for other co-production deals; and Tokuma Group.

Sony, one of Japan's premiere manufacturers of hardware, is reportedly anxious to buy a Hollywood studio with a library of software. But for now, the electronics giant is experimenting with movie production on its own through an American subsidiary, SVS Inc.

SVS has graduated from music videos to small exploitation films and now plans to co-produce movies in the $5-million-to-$8-million range. Upcoming releases: "Midnight," with Lynn Redgrave and Tony Curtis; "Best of the Best," with Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones and Sally Kirkland; and "Modern Love," with Robby Benson directing and starring.

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