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Afro Samurai Comic Takes Hollywood by Storm (May 19, 2006)

Afro Samurai is set to debut in the US. (c)TAKASHI OKAZAKI - GONZO
For a major Hollywood project, Afro Samurai's roots are about as obscure as can be. The soon-to-be-released movie originated as a manga created in Japan by Okazaki Takashi, who began his career not as a manga artist but as a graphic designer and originally funded the comic out of his own pocket. Afro Samurai fuses two disparate cultural themes - those of black America and of the ancient Japanese warrior class. The title character is a black swordsman on a journey to avenge the death of his father, which he witnessed as a child.

Humble Beginnings
As a designer, Okazaki achieved some renown in Japan for his character designs, which can be seen in the hit movie Odoru Daisosasen (Rhythm and Police). Yet in the early days, his efforts at manga had little success. That changed after the 1998 release of Afro Samurai, which originally appeared in the magazine Nou Nou Hau. Funded by Okazaki and his friends, the publication is said to have had a circulation in the hundreds.

The series managed to catch the attention of GDH K.K., an anime production company whose aim was to bring new Japanese works to a global audience. GDH decided to turn the obscure manga into an animated TV series, which is scheduled to air throughout the United States on the cable network Spike TV from late 2006. The series is also expected to air in Japan, where it will be subtitled. A major figure behind the US series will be the Hollywood star Samuel L. Jackson, serving not only as the lead voice actor but as producer as well.

Hot in Hollywood
The planned movie, shot on film, also has Jackson in the lead role. A joint development project has started in Hollywood among Mosaic Media Group, an influential US-based film production company, GDH, and Japan's Fuji Television Network, Inc., and a number of big names in the movie industry have been brought in, including the producers Charles Roven, who worked on Batman Begins, and Kameyama Chihiro, producer of Odoru Daisosasen.

A scene from Afro Samurai (c)TAKASHI OKAZAKI - GONZO

As if that were not enough, Afro Samurai will also be available to fans in the form of a video game, thanks to Japanese game maker Namco Ltd. The job of producing a game version of the story has gone to one of its US-based subsidiaries, Namco Hometek Inc.

Although Japanese anime is regularly shown throughout the United States, none has yet been made into a Hollywood motion picture. That Afro Samurai, with its obscure beginnings, is set to become the first such production makes it a truly extraordinary project. Perhaps no one is more surprised by Hollywood's enthusiasm for Afro Samurai than Okazaki himself. In an interview with the Japanese media, he said: "Even in Japan, it was popular only among a certain segment of manga readers. It never entered our minds that this would be seen by large numbers of people in the United States."

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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