The sequel to splatterfest Battle Royale is set to wrap shooting next month, one of a string of high profile sequels in production in Japan at the moment.

In fact, so many sequels are shooting or preparing to film in Japan, that some are asking whether the country is set to rekindle its love of film series.

Ten or more episodes of a film were not uncommon in the industry's Golden Age, four or more decades ago. Yoji Yamada's Tora-san films ran for an incredible 48 instalments between 1969 to 1996, when star Kiyoshi Atsumi died.

Today, however, successful series are few and far between, save for animation franchises or action titles for the video shelves. A recent spate of hit films, however, has started producers thinking sequel. Can a series be far behind'

Battle Royale II, the follow-up to Kinji Fukasaku's controversial and hugely successful 2000 film about a 'class' of 42 teenagers forced to play a murder game by a repressive government, is getting the most attention, both home and abroad.

Fukasaku had started production at the end of last year when he started losing his battle against cancer and was forced to withdraw from the film, turning over the directorial reins to his 30-year-old son, Kenta.

After Fukasaku's death on Jan 12, Kenta pressed on and Battle Royale II is now expected to arrive in the theatres on July 5 - a month after the original planned opening date.

Meanwhile, another newcomer, Takashi Shimizu, is directing a sequel to his hit shocker The Grudge (Juon), which was recently purchased by Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures for a US remake, with Shimizu himself in the director's chair.

Shimizu, a protege of horrormeister Kiyoshi Kurosawa, made two straight-to-video instalments of The Grudge before directing the theatrical release, which continues the story of the angry dead wreaking vengeance on the living.

Although most of the action takes place in the ramshackle house where the ghosts met their ends, they are no respecters of property lines as several victims discover to their dismay. In the new film, an actress goes to investigate the haunted house with a camera crew - and becomes an unwilling contestant in a horrific new genre of reality TV.

On a lighter note - and promising even bigger box-office returns - is Bayside Shakedown 2 (Odoru Daisosasen: The Movie 2), the sequel to the 1998 mega-hit about police patrolling the trendy Tokyo waterfront. Based on a popular TV show, Bayside Shakedown raked in $84m, making it by far the biggest Japanese film of that year.

In the sequel, Yuji Oda returns as the wise-cracking, street-smart detective who butts heads with not only his station house superiors but elite police bureaucrats. Katsuyuki Motohiro, a TV director who shot to fame with the first film but has since struggled to equal that success, returns to direct the second. Release is set for July 19, with Toho distributing.

Making a faster return to the screen is Yin-Yang Master II (Onmyoji), a period fantasy set in ancient Kyoto that grossed $25m following its release in the autumn of 2001. Mansai Nomura, a famous performer of kyogen - comic sketches with centuries-old pedigrees - reprises his role as a wizard who battles goblins, demons and other supernatural entities.

Yojiro Takita, the director of the first film who recently scored another hit with romantic drama Resurrection (Yomigaeri), will direct the sequel as well. The effects should once again be out of this world, a major factor in the first film's success. Yin-Yang Master II will open in October in the Toho chain.

Remakes are also in vogue, as evidenced by Zatoichi, Takeshi Kitano's new film about a blind masseur who is also a master swordsman. The original series, starring Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi, ran for 26 instalments from 1963 to 1989 and became a cult hit abroad.

The most internationally prominent Japanese director of his generation, mainly for such arthouse favourites as Sonatine and Hana-Bi, Kitano has yet to break into the mainstream. Zatoichi could be his ticket to multiplex riches - though at 55, Kitano, who also stars in the film, is a late starter as an action star. Chances are, though, that he will take the film in a direction quite different to that of the swashbuckling 1963 original. Principal photography is scheduled from late March to late May.

Not as well known abroad, but also a big hit in Japan was Makai Tensho, a 1981 Kinji Fukasaku period fantasy. A Christian samurai, angered by the Shogun's slaughter of himself and his fellow believers, returns to the world of the living 10 years later to lead a legion of the undead against Shogunate forces.

In the sequel Yosuke Kubozuka, who has become Japan's hottest young male actor for his work in Go, Laundry and last year's hit Ping Pong, plays the samurai. The director is Hideyuki Hirayama, whose credits include black comedy Out, which was Japan's nominee this year for a foreign-language Oscar, and the School Ghost Story series - three films, to date, about spooky goings-on in the school house.

The backers, a consortium that includes Toei, Kadokawa Shoten Publishing and the NTV network, have underwritten lavish effects that Fukasaku could only dream about two decades ago. Sometimes there is a good reason for the second time around.