Shochiku, one of Japan's leading film producers anddistributors, is to launch a film fund to underwrite the production of Shinobi,a ninja action film starring Joe Odagiri (Bright Future) and YukieNakama (Game, Trick).

The film, which is directed by Ten Shimoyama (Muscle Heat),will begin principal photography on October 18, with release in the Shochikuchain set for September of next year.

Although Shochiku plans to source most of the film's $13.8mbudget from corporate investors, it also hopes to raise cash from individualsthrough the fund.

Shochiku will sell fund shares in increments of Y100,000($917) though an Internet broker. 'We are still negotiating withbrokerages,' said a Shochiku spokesman. 'The aim is to raise anywherefrom Y100m ($917,431) to Y200 million ($1.8m) through the fund.'

Investors will receive regular updates on production, aswell as invitations to special pre-release screenings. Their names will also belisted on the credits of the DVD release. Fund returns will be based on notonly Shinobi's box office results, but its video and DVD sales. Even if thefilm flops, investors will receive a certain percentage of their principal,expected to be from 70% to 90%.

Similarfunds are already in operation in Korea and Europe, but Shochiku's is a firstfor Japan. 'If we succeed with this film, we intend to finance others thisway, starting next year,' the spokesman said. 'We began with Shinobibecause period dramas are attracting attention not only in Japan but abroad aswell. We think we have a good chance to sell it to the foreign market.'

Japan is currently undergoing a fund boom, following onrecent regulatory relaxation. One new fund has been set up by RakutenSecurities to underwrite Basilisk, a straight-to-DVD animation beingmade by Gonzo, a leading animation production house.

Totalling $2.2m, the fund gives ordinary punters a chance,for a 1 per cent fee, to earn returns based on the film's DVD sales, up to tenpercent over two years.

Launched last November, Rakuten Securities is the securitiesarm of the Rakuten online shopping site.

Another is a fund launched by Kadokawa Pictures to raise aninitial $32m to make nearly 30 films over a seven year period, though investorscan opt to cash out after five. Partners include Kadokawa Shuppan Kikin,Konami, Imagica, Development Bank of Japan and Mizuho Financial Group, with thelast serving as the partners' main bank. Kadokawa hopes the fund will grow to$183m over the course of its life.