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The land of the rising done deal

Tobey Maguire lines up 'Tokyo Suckerpunch' and 'Robotech,' both based on popular Japanese anime works.

September 12, 2007|Jay A. Fernandez | Special to The Times

Konnichi wa, Maguire-san.

Tobey Maguire, the star of three "Spider-Man" films that have generated more than $2.5 billion for Japanese corporate giant Sony, now has not one but two Japan-related projects in the works.

Warner Bros. announced Friday that it had purchased the film rights to "Robotech," an epic Japanese anime sci-fi series about giant robots on Earth, that Maguire will produce with Craig Zahler ("The Brigands of Rattleborge") writing the screenplay.

But the delightfully titled "Tokyo Suckerpunch," which Maguire has been developing as producer and star for two years with screenwriter Ed Solomon ("Men in Black") and producers Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick ("Memoirs of a Geisha"), has also recently picked up momentum. Now it looks like the movie -- a romantic comedy/action/modern noir hybrid that uses live-action and anime -- will reunite Maguire with "Pleasantville" costar Reese Witherspoon and writer-director Gary Ross, who also directed him in "Seabiscuit."

"One of the most attractive things about it is that it combines anime with live action," says Ross, who mixed black-and- white and color footage as a thematic device in "Pleasantville," his 1998 directorial debut. "It presents a lot of stylistic opportunities in how you shoot the live action so that it works harmonically."

Sony acquired the rights to Isaac Adamson's poppy 2000 novel "Tokyo Suckerpunch: A Billy Chaka Adventure" in April 2005, but last month Ross became attached to develop another draft with Solomon that he will direct if it gets greenlighted. Adamson wrote several other Billy Chaka books -- "Hokkaido Popsicle," "Dreaming Pachinko" and "Kinki Lullaby" -- which open up the possibility of another franchise for Maguire.

A draft dated May 22, 2007, is a jaunty, unpredictable foray into the peculiar, pulsing Tokyo cityscape. Billy Chaka -- popular graphic novelist, Cleveland native and rabid Japanophile -- travels to Japan for the first time to attend the premiere of a cheesy movie made from his self-mythologizing work (in Adamson's novel, Chaka is a journalist for teen magazine Youth in Asia). There, he must contend with not only jarring culture shock but also mysterious fans, Dolph Lundgren (who stars as the movie Chaka) and a dangerous, mob-related kidnapping that starts to resemble one of his own crazy plots.

All, of course, while love-hate sparring with his cute and resourceful editor, Sarah, played by Witherspoon. Among the pleasures Solomon delivers are some laugh-out-loud but very black physical comedy, a tense but funny sojourn in a love motel and the prospect of hearing Witherspoon slip in and out of flawless Japanese.

"What Ed does so well is he captures that kind of 1930s male-female banter," Ross says.

Though Ross says he, Maguire and Witherspoon are all game to make the film, potential production depends mostly on Oscar winner Witherspoon's schedule -- she's committed to doing "Four Christmases" with Vince Vaughn this year -- and, of course, Solomon's rewrite.

Promoting his

'Diet' screenplay

You make your own opportunities in Hollywood. The streets and canyons of L.A. are littered with the efforts of ambitious, occasionally loony people to draw attention to their thus-far-unrecognized artistic talents.

When Kevin Michael took to the sidewalks of Beverly Hills this week in an ill-fitting blue wrestling outfit, fake beard, shades and plastic-bottle helmet while holding a sign advertising something called the "Hoboken Beach Diet," he was merely embracing the so-crazy-it-just-might-work magic of our sordid little fantasyland. Or, seen another way, he was driving a giant golden brad through the heart of his aspiring screenwriting career.

Over the years, Michael and cowriter Laurie Anne Marie, who met in writing programs at UCLA, have tried all of the standard ways to get traction on the dozen scripts they've written -- blind submissions, pitch fests, seminars. But their slacker romantic comedy screenplay "Hoboken Beach Diet" apparently called out for something a little, uh, meatier.

So they set up a dummy website (www.hobokenbeachdiet .com), posted an in-character infomercial on YouTube ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=km 4WqP9AbLI) and launched a MySpace page (www.myspace .com/hobokenbeachdiet) to advertise their (fake) common- sense diet ("moderation, not elimination").

Of course, it's all actually meant to promote their screenplay about an abrasive, overweight cynic (think Jack Black) who finds wealth and love after creating a vacuous diet plan by exploiting his reluctant, health-conscious buddy. Michael and Marie's satire of America's manic, billion-dollar dieting culture may be somewhat undercooked, but it does include inventive morsels like the "drive-by fatting," which entails sticking your head out a car window and taunting obese people to drive them to local gyms and, ultimately, the Hoboken Beach Diet.

Michael may have been a victim of the aforementioned "drive-by fatting" the past few weeks when -- on extended lunch breaks from his regular job -- he squeezed into his Hoboken Beach Bandit get-up and paraded outside talent agencies such as UTA, Paradigm, CAA and Endeavor.

Judd Apatow's production office received a visit, as did several popular industry lunch spots, such as Spago and Kate Mantilini, where perplexed valets and restaurant managers tried to run him off.

"Two squad cars pulled up at Kate's and asked me questions," Michael says. "One of the cops was trying to decide if my singlet fell under 'lewd behavior.' They finally decided I was not a harm to society and drove off after discussing where they were going to eat lunch."

Which, presumably, was well balanced and followed by 45 minutes of exercise.

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Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to fernandez_jay@hotmail.com.

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