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Japanese production, particularly at the top end of the market, is geared toward the four peak periods of New Year's, spring break, Golden Week, and summer vacation. Spring break in March is nearly a month-long holiday for most college students, while Golden Week, a cluster of holidays starting at the end of April and continuing through the first week of May, is for everyone, though under-twenty-fives will make up the bulk of cinema-goers.

At the end of November production companies, especially those in animation, are busy gearing up for these two big holiday periods. In addition to toons for kids based on popular TV shows and comics, this November animators are making several big-budget films for a wider audience. One is Shinji Aramaki's dystopian epic Appleseed, which is being readied for a Spring release through the Toho chain. Another is Mamoru Oshii's Innocence, a follow-up to his 1995 hit Ghost In The Shell. Once again Toho is the distributor, with release set for March 6.

Two of the biggest animations, Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle and Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy, are set for post-Golden-Week releases, however -- the former in July, the later in the autumn. Also, though not an anime, the SF feature Devilman is based on one - a series about a devilish-looking superhero - and is being prepped for a summer release, with Hiroyuki Nasu directing and Toei distributing

Among the live-action films for Golden Week is Kazuaki Kiriya's Casshern, an SF drama that is aiming for an animated look. The film is currently in post, with teams of computer whizzes adding digital effects. Shochiku is distributing. Also scheduled for Golden Week screens is Hideaki Anno's Cutie Honey, an action comedy based on a popular seventies anime. The superwoman protagonist in white boots, played by Eriko Sato, has a nostalgic appeal for Japanese fans similar to that of Austin Powers, but with better teeth. Warner is releasing.

Toho's entry for the Golden Week sweeps is Hana And Alice, the latest teen-themed drama by Shunji Iwai, whose All About Lily Chou Chou was an art house hit in 2001. Starring Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi, the new film will open far wider, however. Meanwhile, Toei's big Golden Week film is 69 sixty nine, Korea director Li San-il's drama based on a Ryu Murakami novel about student activists in the magical last year of the sixties.

Several films now in post are slotted for the relatively slow month of February. Among the most highly anticipated, by international film fans at least, is Zebraman, the superhero parody by Takashi Miike, an industry outlaw who has been edging toward the mainstream in his recent films. Yakuza genre icon Sho Aikawa stars, in his 100th feature role, while Toei will distribute.