Flipped over success

MALAYSIAN film producer Bea Tanaka and her Japanese film director husband, Yasu Tanaka, (right) have done the local film industry proud.

The couple, both 50, are the founders of production house 42nd Pictures, which produced last year's critically-acclaimed psychological thriller Nota.

The film won the best screenplay award for Yasu at the 2016 Malaysian Film Festival.

Now, Yasu's latest screenplay, for horror-thriller Terbalik, has captured the attention of Hollywood production company Ivanhoe Pictures.

Ivanhoe Pictures has purchased the remake rights to the film in a deal estimated to be between RM12 million to RM16 million (although the Tanakas have yet to receive any cash from the sale).

This is the first time one of their scripts (written by Yasu in English and translated into Bahasa Malaysia by Bea) has attracted international attention.

Ivanhoe Pictures has previously partnered with other Asian production houses to produce several notable films including South Korean horror film The Wailing, and Crazy Rich Asians based on Singaporean novelist Kevin Kwan's book of the same name.

The Malaysian version of Terbalik will begin filming early next year, while the Hollywood version is expected to shoot at the end of 2018.

Terbalik centres on an actor, played by award-winning Bront Palarae, who is trapped upside-down in his car after an accident deep in a forest.

A group of boys find him, and instead of rescuing him, the boys torture him and film the act on their smartphones, which they plan to release on the internet.

Most of the scenes show the point-of-view of the actor trapped upside-down in the car.

The idea for Terbalik hit Yasu while he was watching TV at home one night.

"I was wondering what if the visuals on the television were upside down?," he recalls.

"It would [certainly] make a good story to see things from an upside-down perspective. I just needed to find a suitable setting for the situation."

Bea believes the script attracted attention because it could be adapted anywhere.

"You could easily make the film in China with Chinese actors, and in France with French actors," she adds.
Terbalik's plot sounds similar to the 1990 Stephen King thriller Misery, featuring an author (James Caan) rescued from a car wreck by a crazed fan (Kathy Bates), who proceeds to torture him in order to force him to write another novel.

However, the Tanakas believe that their film bears more similarities to two other 2010 films – the Ryan Reynolds-starrer Buried, and the James Franco-starrer 127 Hours.

"[Like them], Terbalik has a 'one character, one location' concept," Yasu explains.

In fact, about three-quarters of the film will be shot around the 'car wreck', which will be located in an area around Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in Bangi.

The Tanakas have also hired a prop maker to create the car wreck where leading man Bront will be positioned upside down.

Medically, it will be dangerous for Bront to be upside down for a long time, so the car seat is rigged in such a way that Bront can easily be turned the right side up again.

They have tested the rig and the Tanakas are happy with the results, but a medical team will be standing by on set, just in case.

The local production is estimated to cost RM2 million and the Tanakas are now in the midst of finding sponsors for it.

Terbalik marks the culmination of a dream by Yasu, who admits he wrote the script with the idea of attracting the attention of international production houses.

"The reality of this dream will only hit me when I see the remake," he adds.

Yasu has wanted to be a filmmaker ever since he was captivated at age 10 by the sounds and visuals of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

He went to America to study filmmaking at age 20, earning a film degree from the California State University.

When he could not get any directing jobs in Hollywood, he took up scriptwriting, and teaching others how to write scripts, adding that you need to be adaptable in this business.

He eventually focused on teaching scriptwriting in the US, his native Japan and Malaysia.

Starting 42nd Pictures in 2010 with his wife allowed Yasu to finally realise his dream of becoming a filmmaker.

Yasu and Bea are already looking forward to their next film – a family comedy featuring an actor trying to to save an ice-skating rink from being demolished.

The sport of ice skating has special significance for the couple. Yasu was once a professional ice skater who performed for Disney on Ice, a career that took him around the world, including Malaysia.

It was in 2004 that Yasu met Bea, then a teacher for the deaf, who had come to watch a show he was performing in.

A relationship developed between them and the couple married in 2007.

The two admit that working together is never easy.
"Sometimes I feel like killing her, and she feels like killing me," Yasu jokes.

Bea adds: "You will never know when the working relationship ends, and (your roles as) husband and wife begins".

Ironically, both Nota and Terbalik feature characters who are having marital troubles.

"In our third film, my lead character will have an unhappy marriage, too," Yasu says, cheekily. — AFP