The blaze in the city of Kyoto appeared to have been started deliberately, police said

Tokyo (AFP) - A suspected arson attack on an animation studio in Japan on Thursday left at least one person dead and injured dozens, several of them seriously, the emergency services said.

The blaze in the city of Kyoto appeared to have been started deliberately, police said, but there was no immediate information on a possible motive.

Local media, citing unnamed police officials, said the death toll was likely to rise with several people still inside the building showing no apparent signs of life.

Footage of the blaze showed thick white smoke pouring from windows of the three-storey building. Its facade was charred black on much of one side where the flames had burned out of the windows.

“At least one unidentified person was confirmed dead,” a fire department spokesman told AFP.

Another 35 people were injured, 10 of them seriously, he added.

Map of Japan locating Kyoto where a deadly blaze broke out at an anime studio on July 18

“Rescue operations are continuing, and we are trying to bring out several victims who are trapped inside the three-story building, including ones who may not be able to move by themselves,” a second fire department spokesman said.

“We can’t immediately determine their condition,” he said, adding that the fire was still burning, hours after it was started.

- ‘Drop dead’ -

The fire department said it began receiving calls around 10:35 am (0135 GMT) about the fire at the studio belonging to Kyoto Animation.

“Callers reported having heard a loud explosion from the first floor of Kyoto Animation and seeing smoke,” a fire department spokesman said.

Public broadcaster NHK reported that a man had been detained in connection with the blaze and was later taken to hospital for treatment

Police said they were still investigating the cause of the fire but that it was a suspected arson.

“A man threw a liquid and set fire to it,” a Kyoto prefectural police spokesman told AFP.

Public broadcaster NHK reported that a man had been detained in connection with the blaze and was later taken to hospital for treatment.

It reported that the suspect had poured a gasoline-like substance around the building and said “drop dead” as he set fire to it.

- ‘Raging’ flames -

Witnesses described a powerful blaze.

“I heard two loud bangs, they sounded like explosions,” a man told NHK.

“The fire was raging hard. I saw red flames flaring.”

A woman living nearby told Kyodo news agency she had seen at least one injured person outside the building.

Japanese media reported that a suspect had poured a gasoline-like substance around the building and said 'drop dead' as he set fire to it

“A person with singed hair was lying down and there were bloody footprints,” the 59-year-old told the local news outlet.

There was no immediate statement from the studio, which produced several well-known television anime series, including “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” and “K-ON!”

“We are in the process of learning what happened,” said a woman who answered the phone at the firm’s headquarters in Uji City in the Kyoto region.

“We cannot tell you anything more,” she added.

Japan has a famously low crime rate, with violent crime very rare.