Toei, one of Japan's leading distributors and exhibitors, has recorded a net operating profit of $10.5m (Y1.3 billion) in the first half of fiscal 2001, ending in September.

The increase is largely attributed to the success of Hotaru, a romantic drama starring Japanese screen legend Ken Takakura which grossed $18m (Y2.3 billion) in seven weeks.

Although the ninja actioner Red Shadow and Japan's Foreign Film Oscar nominee GO have not been as successful for Toei at the domestic box office, Toei is confident of strong earnings from the upcoming Genji-A Thousand Year Love, (pictured) which the company expects to earn $40.6m(Y5 billion).

Toei also had steady box office returns from its live-action films and animation series for children, including its three big summer titles: Digital Monster, which earned $8m (Y1 billion), and Gao Ranger and Masked Rider Agito, which grossed $9.7m (Y1.2 billion) each.

In a related development, Toei Animation is launching the first communications satellite broadcasting service to provide animation programming to South Korea, from next March. The service is part of Toei Animation's plan to aggressively expand overseas sales. Currently, overseas sales account for about 40% of the company's consolidated revenue.

Toei Animation will launch the new digital satellite broadcasting service, Daiwon Digital Broadcasting Company Ltd, with seven other companies: Japan's Shogakukan Production (Pokemon series), Bandai Co., TMS Entertainment (Rupan the 3rd) and Sunrise (Mobil Suit Gundam) and Korea's Daiwon Broadcasting Company, Gina World and Bandai Korea.

The new firm will operate the Ani 1 animation channel, starting with 12 hours of programming daily, with the aim of attracting the many Japanese animation fans in Korea.

The largest animated film studio in Asia, Toei Animation was founded in 1956 to provide local competition to American animation. It produced hundreds of hours of black-and-white cartoons before converting all production to colour in the 1960s.