Disney Japan tracking down Lilo & Stitch scenes on Kaua’i for special feature

Take three twenty-something Japanese pop stars, add a little mystery story, a positive family message, and Kaua’i scenery, and you have the filming of a Japanese television show featuring real-life Kaua’i spots from the animated Disney film “Lilo and Stitch.”

A crew from Buena Vista Productions/Disney Japan was on Kaua’i last weekend to film the 30-minute show, thanks to a contract between them and the Hawai’i Visitors Bureau.

The Tokyo Broadcasting System, Japan’s largest TV network, will show the program in late February 2003 – targeted to boost interest of “Lilo and Stitch” just before Japan kicks off the movie’s international release next March 8.

In the program, three young women from Japan come to Kaua’i in search of Lilo. While looking for the little girl at several locations seen in the movie, they discover the meaning of ‘ohana.

Television star Tomoko Tabata was the voice of Lilo’s older sister Nani in the Japanese dubbed version. Popular comedian duo (and sisters) Tomoko Murakami and Yasuyo Umemoto were also cast in the program.

Art Umezu, Kaua’i songwriter and Japanese translator, served as a production coordinator and location scout. While numerous Japanese crews come to Kaua’i for productions each year, this “Lilo and Stitch” project is the first to approach the island from this angle, he said.

Kaua’i Visitors Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho said that because of a close partnership with Disney animators and the Hawaii Visitors Bureau, Kaua’i was directly identified in the film and two American programs were produced to coincide with its release in North America (the first showed how movie producers were going to set “Lilo and Stitch” in Kansas but changed plans after a retreat to Kaua’i; the second was about the making of the film with a concert featuring Elvis covers, shown the same day as the premiere).

It’s been almost a year since the Honolulu and Los Angeles premieres, Web-powered Disney sweepstakes for vacations on each island – and this project is the latest in promotions for “Lilo and Stitch,” Kanoho noted.

Dozens of locations from the North Shore to the West Side were portrayed in the animation, including Hanalei Pier, the lobby of the Princeville Sheraton Resort, Kilauea Lighthouse, a colorful sunset at Po’ipu Beach Park, Hanapepe Town and Waimea Canyon.

The young stars and production crew discovered the meaning of ‘ohana themselves during their island assignment.

At a lu’au held at the Kapa’a home of Robbie and Pua Kaholokula Friday night, several of the cast and crew started crying: They said they truly understood the meaning of ‘ohana, Umezu remembered.

“You can’t get something like this on O’ahu, no matter how much money you pay,” Umezu said.

They ate Hawaiian food from Waipouli’s Aloha Diner, shave ice and Popo’s Cookies, and took a hula lesson from Kapa’a-based kumu hula Pua Kaholokula. At nearly every stop on the road from Ke’e Beach to Waimea Canyon and back to their rooms at the Radisson Kauai Beach Resort, they snapped away with their sleek digital cameras.

Coincidentally, the two Tomokos celebrated their birthdays while on Kaua’i, and enjoyed a prime rib dinner from the Bull Shed and a “Lilo and Stitch” cake from Kauai Bakery and Cinnamons.

“Lilo and Stitch” could carry a positive message for Japanese, who face an upswing of single parenting, unemployment and drug abuse in recent times.

The ‘ohana angle may prove to be good news for Kaua’i as well. Faced with the end of a Japanese tourism boom of the 1980s and 90s, Kaua’i is having to market itself in new ways and to new faces.

“Everything we do in tourism is so vulnerable to change in the world. (Japanese people) have become aware of closer and less expensive destinations. I do still believe that Hawai’i is a very special place to the Japanese market…We (Kaua’i) don’t have Louis Vuitton shops and nightclubs open till 5 o’clock, but we have natural beauty,” Kanoho said.

“Several of them came (to Kaua’i) about 10 years ago. This time when they came, they were really overwhelmed with the feelings of aloha and ‘ohana,” Umezu said, “They’re trying to pinpoint Lilo and Stitch, but the real message is ‘ohana. This island is filled with ‘ohana.”

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).


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