Everyone knows that J.J. Abrams loves being secretive about his projects; his strategy of revealing little about his films prior to their release paid off with Cloverfield and should benefit this summer's Super 8 as well. So the news that he's got another "mystery" film being actively developed - one tentatively titled Zanbato - comes as little surprise.
Fringe writing/co-executive producing duo Monica Breen and Alison Shapker are currently reworking the script for Zanbato - a word that literally translates as "horse-slaying sword" and is the name of an immense weapon that is theorized to have been used in feudal Japan (1185-1868 A.D.).
An insider for Deadline has described Zanbato as a screenplay that mixes Japanese history with robots - to quote, "swashbuckling robots with swords." Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) was reportedly attached to helm the project at one point, but that is no longer the case. Whether Abrams has any intention of directing Zanbato or plans to pass it on to someone else (like he did with Cloverfield) is not clear.
The basic premise for Zanbato sounds (to be blunt) kind of kooky at first, but in the hands of Abrams and a pair of Fringe writers, it could be a pretty entertaining mashup of history and sci-fi genre elements. Besides, with titles like Cowboys and Aliens or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on the horizon, these genre hybrid pieces are almost becoming the norm in Hollywood. Per usual, take that as you will.
Abrams has always been open about the influence of Japanese monster movie culture on Cloverfield, and he's expressed similar interest in the general history of Japan as well. So while a project that has the potential to incorporate, say, samurai warriors with advanced robotic tech doesn't immediately jump out as the "logical" next step for Abrams, it seems fitting enough from that perspective.
If Abrams plans on directing Zanbato then it could be a while before we learn more about the flick, seeing as he is a virtual lock to direct Star Trek 2 later this year (*knock on wood*). We'll keep you posted on the status of Zanbato in the meantime.