Japanese publisher Shogakukan has announced that one of its recent feature films in the popular Doraemon franchise will screen theatrically in 35 cities across mainland China.

Doraemon: Nobita's Dinosaur 2006 , which was released domestically in March last year, will become the first Japanese animated feature to be screened theatrically in China. State-owned Huaxia Film Distribution will release the film in July.

Created in 1969 by Fujiko Fujio, the robotic cat is a pop culture icon in Japan and has spawned a multi-million dollar industry of manga, toys, a 26-year running TV series, home video and over 50 theatrical features and short films. An Asian Hero issue of Time Magazine published in 2002 featured Doraemon as the only animated hero on the list.

Theatrical Doraemon features have placed the characters in settings such as Atlantis and referenced other works such as Star Wars, Journey To The West and Arabian Nights. The annually-released, Toho-distributed films consistently place in the top ten domestic grossing films of the year.

The first foreign theatrical release of a Doraemon film was in Spain in 1999. Since that time, titles have screened in Asian countries including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore. However, mainland China's import quotas have delayed release in that country until now.

The special release coincides with the China-Japan Culture and Sports Exchange as part of the celebrations of the 35th anniversary of normalisation of diplomatic ties between the two nations. The film was originally planned for a release last year, but permission was finally granted just before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Japan earlier this month on April 10.