Katsuhiro Otomo's long-awaited new animation Steamboy- which cost a record-breaking $22m (Y2.4bn) to make - grossed a weak $2.2m on its three-day opening weekend fromJuly 17 on 262 screens nationwide.

With the summer holiday just kicking off, distributor Tohonow expects Steamboy to earn around $13.9 million.

By comparison Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away grossed$281 million after opening in 2001 in the same mid-July slot. This is thecompany's second major disappointment this year with a highly anticipatedJapanese animation. In March, Toho released Mamoru Oshii's Innocence,the sequel to his 1995 hit Ghost In The Shell, but grossed only $9.2m(Y1.0bn) on 300 screens nationwide in ten weeks.

Toho expects Steamboy to out-perform Innocence,given an opening weekend box office 13% higher than that of the Oshii film, onfewer screens. Even so, the film was originally expected to earn at least Y5.0billion ($46 million) -- a goal that now looks out of reach.

Steamboy is being hammered by the Hollywood competition,including Spider-Man 2 and Harry Potter 3, indicating that Japaneseanimation may be losing the local audience it once owned, at a time when it isreceiving greater acceptance abroad. The real test will come when HayaoMiyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle opens in Japan in November.

At the opening screening on July 17th, executiveproducer Shigeru Watanabe of Bandai Visual announced that the company plans tomake a Steamboy sequel. However, he did not give any details concerningstory, production schedule and even whether Otomo will be the director.

Steamboy is scheduled to be released inFrance in September and in the US in December.

Produced by a consortium of eight backers including BandaiVisual, Bandai, Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan, Toho, Dentsu, Sunrise,Imagica and Cultural Publishers, Steamboy is an action adventureanimation directed by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira). Set in 19th-centuryLondon, the story revolves around a boy who receives a mysterious "steamball" from an inventor grandfather and discovers its amazing powers. TheDentsu ad agency is handling sales in Asia, while Sony Pictures Entertainmentis repping the film in the rest of the world.