Kinji Fukasaku, whose controversial dystopian thriller Battle Royale was one of the big local hits of 2001, died on Sunday Jan 12.

Direction of the sequel has passed to his son Kenta .

Fukasaku, 72, began principal photography of Battle Royale 2 in Tokyo on December 16, but soon after complained of severe pain and had to be hospitalised on December 21. He then fell ill with pneumonia and his plans to return to the set after the New Year's holiday were put on hold.

A producer and scriptwriter on both Battle Royale and the sequel, Kenta was his father's first choice as a replacement. Fukasaku, however, still hoped to return to the film, which he announced as his last, by the end of February.

Once best known abroad for the cult classic Black Lizard and the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series of gangster films, Fukasaku was a leading commercial force inJapanese cinema for more than two decades. His career was faltering, however, when he made Battle Royale, a film about 42 junior high school students forced to play a murder game by a repressive government in a near-future Japan.

Though denounced in Parliament and elsewhere for its excessive violence, the film was a huge hit with its teenage target audience, grossing $26 million. The sequel is scheduled for a summer release by Toei.