In the ‘90s, after the success of Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart, David Lynch almost made a live-action adaptation of Otomo Katsuhiro’s manga Domu: A Child’s Dream. It’s not as well known or popular as Katsuhiro’s own Akira, but it’s still considered a major work. And in a number of ways, this movie adaptation almost happened because of George Lucas.

Recently, on the Filmumentaries Podcast, Nilo Rodis-Jamero related a piece of this story, but /Film followed up with him to ask more about the project and why it fell apart. 

Nilo Rodis-Jamero is an iconic name in design. He designed the Slave I spaceship and storyboarded sequences in The Empire Strikes Back. He was the costume designer on Return of the Jedi. He was a mainstay on Lucasfilm productions for many years, working on everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Howard the Duck. If you listen to that Filmumentaries episode linked above, you’ll hear many great stories about making those movies (including a wonderful anecdote about asking George Lucas to arrive behind the scenes of Howard the Duck to get Rodis-Jamero’s team in line).

But later, Rodis-Jamero was sent to Japan to work on a project for Lucasfilm that would team them up with Bandai, the toy company. This project was known as Xyber and it was about a seven-year old boy in the post-apocalypse who finds an AI that contains all of the knowledge of human history. Lucasfilm was going to do the production and Bandai was going to pay for it. (It ended up in turnaround and Fox Kids picked it up, changing the project drastically. It became Xyber 9: New Dawn starring Rene Auberjonois and Tim Curry and lasted only one season.) 

While he was there in Japan at Bandai’s headquarters on behalf of this Lucasfilm project, Rodis-Jamero happened to be flipping through a copy of Otomo Katsuhiro’s manga Domu: A Child’s Dream. The executives remarked that they’d been trying to work with Otomo, but they couldn’t get it to happen. They told Nilo Rodis-Jamero that if he could convince Otomo Katsuhiro to hand over the rights to the book, Bandai would pay for the full production of the film and for prints and advertising.

Domu: A Child’s Dream tells the story of an old man and a child with extraordinary powers. The old man is losing his mind and takes control of an apartment building, causing tenants to kill themselves, but he’s challenged by a young girl with her own special abilities. It was serialized in Japan in 1980-1981, where it was hugely popular.

Nilo Rodis-Jamero kindly inquired where to find Otomo Katsuhiro. The two met and Otomo agreed to look at a script treatment in 60 days. If he liked it, then they’d move forward. Nilo Rodis-Jamero broke down the book into a treatment, brought it back to Otomo who liked it enough to give him another 60 days to get a script written. And that’s when Nilo Rodis-Jamero turned to his friend David Lynch.

Speaking with /Film, Rodis-Jamero explained that he first met Lynch when George Lucas brought him to the art department when he was being considered to direct Return of the Jedi:

I met David [Lynch] and somehow made an impression on David that we stayed in contact. David used to cut his films at the Ranch. Occasionally, David would show me rough cuts of his movies… We stayed in contact. So when the opportunity to do Domu somehow miraculously happened, I took it to David because this is David’s territory. This is not mine. I was merely a conduit to get things happening. I certainly wouldn’t want to be producing that kind of movie my first time out, so I met with David at Du-Par’s. It’s a really old time diner over on Ventura Blvd. with really old time waitresses, it’s like you step into the 1950’s. And I told David the opening scene, and before I could finish the opening scene, he said, ‘I’m in.’”

Nilo went back to Japan to talk to Otomo and showed him the script and explained that David Lynch would make the movie. Otomo liked the script and the situation. Bandai agreed to everything and gave the production a 12 month turn around. They had to have the film shooting in 12 months or the rights would revert back to Bandai. As Rodis-Jamero recalls:

“David and I took it to Propaganda Films. They were the production company that did Wild at Heart for him. Unbeknownst to me though, David and Propaganda Films’ relationship was beginning to come apart. Propaganda was more interested in my sweetheart, my sweetheart being Bandai. ‘Why did Bandai give you this?’ This being full production, full marketing and prints, and I’m nobody… They were more interested in getting that deal from Bandai than in making the movie for David and I. That’s really when it kind of started to come apart. Finally, my attorney told me, ‘You need to walk away from this. They’re offering you money to walk away from this. Walk because with the turnaround, they’re never gonna be able to shoot the movie. You’re never gonna be able to get this shooting within so many weeks because they turn around deadline is coming.’ So yeah, I walked away. I decided I’m done with movies.”

And that’s how the project died.

Because George Lucas introduced David Lynch to Nilo Rodis-Jamero and a decade later sent him to Japan to work on a deal, we almost got a live-action adaptation of one of the most bizarre Otomo Katsuhiro stories ever.

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