Japanese conglomerate Itochu has bought a 10% stake in Hollywood-basedComic Book Movies (CBM).

The investment, for an undisclosed sum, gives CBM access to theJapanese market through Itochu's licensing and distribution network, includingits Family Mart chain of convenience stores.

Itochu will also promote CBM movies released in Japan and assist withglobal promotion.

Itochu in turn will get exclusive distribution rights to CBM's toy and stationary merchandise in Japan.

CBM was established in 2004 by Hollywood film producer MichaelE Uslan to create film and merchandise franchisesbased on American and international comics and manga.

Uslan has served as eitherexecutive producer or producer on the Batmanfeature films and animated productions, Catwoman, NationalTreasure and Constantine.

He is currently developing Shazam! and Christopher Nolan's TheDark Knight, the follow-up to last year's Batman Begins.

The stock purchase strengthens the relationship established between thetwo companies last year.

In November 2005, Itochu, IshimoriEntertainment Inc (formed by Itochu and IshimoriGroup), CBM and Lotus setup a partnership to jointly develop films based on the work of manga author Shotaro Ishinomori, whose creations include the popular Kamen Rider superhero franchise.

The first production is slated for a 2008 release.

In February of last year, Itochu also agreed in principle to co-produceJapanese animation with Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific.

Itochu has global interests in textiles, machinery, energy, generalmerchandise, finance, construction and real estate.

Itochu's investment is part of a trend of Japanese conglomeratesexpanding their media interests, with recent deals struck by major corporationssuch as Sojitz, Sumitomo and Mitsubishi.