Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan has announced plans to make two full-length animated features annually for the local and international markets.

The company has set up a new unit to produce the films and distribute them in 67 countries worldwide.

The unit will also recruit and train animators for their productions. The release of the first film is scheduled for the 2005 at the earliest.

The new unit is part of Sony's strategy to produce films in non-English speaking territories. Japan is the seventh such territory to launch local productions and the first to focus on animated features.

The news comes in the same week that Disney said it would close its animation unit in Tokyo, shutting an office with 103 employees because production needs had decreased. The studio, which has created a number of films based on characters from the Winnie The Pooh children's books, will close after it finishes current project, The Heffalump Movie.

Sony has already participated in the production of several animation titles, including Taro Rin's Metropolis, a feature based on the work of animation legend Osamu Tezuka that was released worldwide in 2001, including Europe and North America.

Sony is also a production partner in Tokyo Godfather, an animation directed by Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress) that Sony will release in Japan in November, and Steamboy, Katsuhiro Otomo's long-awaited epic, whose opening has been pushed back one year, to the autumn of 2004.