Best known in the West for the films he has directed, including the 1997 Cannes Palme d'Or winner Hana-Bi and the 2003 box office smash Zatoichi, multi-talented Takeshi Kitano has had a longer career as an actor, going back to his breakout role as a brutal prison camp guard in Nagisa Oshima's 1983 Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.

In Japan, he has been generating media buzz for his latest part, as a Korean immigrant in pre-war Japan in Yoichi Sai's new drama Chi To Hone (Blood And Bone). The attention is not only for the pairing of Kitano and Sai -- both of whom are probably better known by the general public as ad-libbing TV talents -- but the brutal beatings delivered by Kitano's character to the wife played by Kyoka Suzuki, a versatile actress who might be described as Japan's answer to Meryl Streep.

Also getting press is Godzilla: Final War, which Toho has announced will be the last entry in its signature Godzilla series, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The official reason: An inability to make a "truly new Godzilla" for the new millennium. The real reason: A box office slide that even liberal applications of CG effects has been unable to halt. The director, Ryuhei Kitamura, is a hot talent known for the swordfighting epics Azumi, Sky High and Versus, among others. Godzilla's weaponry, however, will be limited to his atomic-powered breath.

Taking swords more seriously is Yoji Yamada's new samurai drama Kakushiken Oni No Tsume -- a follow-up to Yamada's 2002 critical and commercial success The Twilight Samurai. Based on a novel by Shuhei Fujisawa, whose work also inspired The Twilight Samurai, the film stars Masatoshi Nagase as a samurai who receives a "secret sword" that changes his life. Shochiku is scheduling an autumn release.

Among the biggest budgeted of the films now in pre-production is Lorelei, a $10m submarine epic produced by Chihiro Kameyama, the Fuji TV hitmaker also responsible for the two Bayside Shakedown films -- -comic cop thrillers that swept the local box office in 1998 and 2003, respectively. Set at the end of World War 2, Lorelei is less a flag-waving war movie than a thriller about a girl with supernatural powers who boards a Japanese sub on a top secret mission: Destroy a US ship carrying an atomic bomb. Release is set for the spring of 2005.

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