It's not surprising that Japanese producers are making morefilms with the aid of digital technology, from DG cameras to animation paintprograms. Much of it is developed in Japan, even if its products are no longermade there. (The Japanese are almost as eager to outsource manufacturing andtech jobs as the Americans and happen to be a lot closer geographically andculturally to their Asian subcontractors.)

But for all their futuristic gear, filmmakers are lookingmore at the past, cinematic and otherwise, for inspiration.

True, a half-century-old box office icon, Godzilla, is aboutto depart, with Toho releasing what it says will be the Big G's last roar thisDecember.

But more representative of industry trends is Azumi Revolution, the sequel to the 2003hit swashbuckler about a woman warrior's battle with the forces of theShogunate (climaxing with a one-against-200 sword fight). Based on a popularmanga, Azumi boosted Aya Ueto, thediminutive teen idol who played the title character, to superstardom. Ueto alsostars in the sequel.

Perhaps not altogether coincidentally, Ryuhei Kitamura, whomade Azumi, is now directing Godzilla Final Wars, while ShunsukeKaneko, whose credits include the 2001 hit Godzilla,Mothra And King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, is helming Azumi Revolution. Both directors areknown for their CGI-spiced action scenes, though the younger Kitamura is moreof a swordplay specialist, while Kaneko has long been the go-to guy for monstermovies, including the Gamera seriesstarring a super-powered flying turtle.

Also getting a big pre-release build-up is Asurajo No Hitomi (The Eyes Of Asura Castle),Shochiku's entry into the samurai sweepstakes. Budgeted at $8m the film is,rare for a mainstream feature, being based on a hit play. Somegoro Ichikawa, apopular Kabuki actor, makes his first starring appearance on screen as asamurai fighting dark supernatural forces. Yojiro Takita, who helmed the twosimilarly spooky Yin-Yang Masterfilms, is directing. Release is scheduled for the spring of 2005.

Likewise getting media buzz is Mayonaka No Yajisan Kitasan (Mr. Yaji And Kita At Midnight), thedirectorial debut of screenwriter Kankuro Kudo, whose wild-and-crazy charactersand comically surreal storylines have resonated with young audiences in suchfilms as Go (2001), Ping Pong (2002), Kisarazu Cat's Eye (2003) and Zebraman(2004).

Based on his own script, Kudo is directing the story of aTokyo merchant, played by pop star Tomoya Nagase, who takes his drug-addictedgay lover, a wandering actor played by Kabuki star Shinosuke Nakamura, fortreatment at a mountain shrine. Release is scheduled for the early summer of2005. Given Kudo's past efforts, the journey of this pair should take many aloopy detour. Also, the fact that this hitmaker is looking back, not ahead,says something about the way industry winds are blowing. At the Japanese boxoffice, at least, the good old days have seldom looked better.

For full Japanese production listings, click HERE