Shochiku, a major Japanesefilm company with interests in production, distribution and exhibition, hasannounced the launch of a new division to produce animated features and TVshows.

Headed by General Manager ofFilmed Entertainment Ichiro Seki, the division plans to release its firstfeature in 2005. Director, budget and story have yet to be announced. Workingwith leading animation houses, the division intends to develop five feature andTV projects annually. First year revenue is expected to amount to $46m (Y5bn).Projects will use both traditional 2-D and CGI-generated 3-D animation.

Shochiku has distributedanimated features for several years now, including the popular Ultramanseries. In the spring of 2005 the company will release The Prince of Tennis,a feature animation co-produced by Production I.G., which is also responsiblefor Mamoru Oshii's Innocence and Ghost In the Shell.

Rival Toei produces featureanimation through group company Toei Animation, including its enduringlypopular Toei Animation Fair series. Toho, by far the largest local distributor,does not have an animation division, but distributes the genre's biggest boxoffice winners year in and year out, including the films of Hayao Miyazaki's StudioGhibli.