Disney to use Japan anime houses

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TOKYO -- Disney will team with Japanese animation houses to produce cartoons in its first major production venture outside the U.S., the company said Thursday.

Disney initially will broadcast the new content on its Japanese channels, with plans to eventually distribute it on its new mobile phone service and to the rest of Asia.

The company hopes to use local expertise and knowledge to increase its share of the huge Asian animation market. One of the first projects will be "Fireball," a futuristic robot series that will utilize 3-D CGI and be created in collaboration with locally based Jinni's Animation Studio.

Disney also will work with Madhouse on a localized version of the "Lilo & Stitch" series. The setting of the Japanese version, "Stitch!" will be moved from the original Hawaii to Okinawa.

Toei Animation plans to use the global network of the U.S. giant to improve its overseas distribution, local news reports said.

Disney already has a significant presence in Japan: Tokyo Disneyland, the first Disney theme park outside the U.S., opened in 1983, and the Disney Channel began broadcasting in 2003.

Disney also is rolling out its mobile phone service in Japan as a mobile virtual network operator, on the back of Softbank's network. Softbank took over Vodafone Japan when the global mobile powerhouse withdrew after failing to make an impact.
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