Three new works by Japanese animation powerhouses head Toho's line-up for 2003-2004.
Leading the line-up is Howl's Moving Castle, the latest film by Hayao Miyazaki, whose Spirited Away set an all-time Japanese box office record last year and is being tipped for an Academy Award nomination.
Based on a 1986 children's novel by Diana Wynne Jones about a girl who is transformed into an old woman by a wizard's spell, the film was originally set to be directed by Mamoru Hosoda for a summer 2003 release.
A director for Toei Animation, Hosoda was the first outsider chosen to helm a film for Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, but Hosoda quit the project several months ago, after failing to come up with a concept satisfactory to his Studio Ghibli bosses. The film then remained in limbo, until Miyazaki decided to direct it himself. The official start of production is February 1, with completion scheduled for the spring of 2004 and release for the summer of the same year.
Another major animation project Toho's schedule is Steamboy, Katsuhiro Otomo's first feature-length film in fifteen years, since his influential 1988 hit Akira. Eight years in production and with a $20m (Y2.4 bn) budget - a record for a Japanese animation - Steamboy will use 180,000 drawings and 400 CG cuts. Set in England during the Industrial Revolution, the film tells the story of a father and son team of scientists pitted against an evil organisation. Release is scheduled for the autumn of 2003.
Yet another big animation project on the Toho slate is Innocence by Mamoru Oshii. Set in the same near future as Oshii's 1995 hit Ghost In The Shell, the film explores the ever-shrinking gap between man and machine, with an unusual love story serving as its dramatic engine. Release is set for the spring of 2004.