An ambitious venture in cross-cultural collaboration has just been announced by Upgrade Productions and Shochiku, the prestigious Japanese film studio. The two will work together on producing an eight-part Japanese-language TV adaptation of Mizumura Minae’s 2003 novel, A True Novel. The book, which won a coveted Yomiuri Award, was itself inspired by Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Set in post-WWII Japan and the U.S., the story has been described as “a sweeping family narrative.” Shochiku will be credited as the producer, with Upgrade listed as executive producer.
Upgrade Productions made its debut in 2021, helmed by Matt Brodlie and Jonathan Kier. In announcing their new collaboration, they said: “The extraordinary team at Shochiku, one of Japan’s most innovative and successful studios, is the perfect partner on this show. A True Novel is a beautiful story with universal themes. And to be collaborating with the incredibly talented Sakaguchi Riko is a dream come true. It’s an epic story which is appealing to global audiences.”
Shochiku’s producer Akita Shuhei joined with head of sales Koyama Meri in welcoming the new venture, declaring: “We are excited to be adapting this powerful story, based on a prestigious and popular Japanese novel. Collaborating with Upgrade will help us bring this series to the world.”
Founded in 1895 during the Meiji era, Shochiku has grown to be a major film studio and is also the leading producer of Kabuki theater in Japan. Upgrade, a newcomer, is seeking to capitalize on global markets and non-English content via its ties to Constantin Film and Bron Studios. Among its other projects in development are Twenty Faces, a TV series based on stories by Japanese mystery writer Edogawa Ranpo, and La Jaula, a Spanish-language fantasy horror series. Upgrade’s frying pan also includes Sausages, a series by Australian comedian Ryan Shelton.
Brodlie comes to Upgrade from Disney+, where he had directed content strategy for non-U.S. markets. Prior to that he worked with Netflix, Paramount, and Miramax. Kier had been president of Sierra/Affinity, managing worldwide film sales and distribution.
A True Novel author Mizumura Minae was born in Tokyo and grew up in Long Island. After studying at Yale and the Sorbonne, she launched her literary career with the novel Light and Darkness Continued, a sequel to an unfinished work by Natsume Sōseki. She now lives in Tokyo, having taught at Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Michigan.