Written for SubtitledOnline.com
Film: Battle Royale II: Requiem
Release date: 23 Aug 2004
Running time: 133 mins
Directors: Kinji and Kenta Fukasaku
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ai Maeda, Shûgo Oshinari, Takeshi Kitano.
Studio: Tartan Video
The original Battle Royale courted critical acclaim and controversy in equal measure. Kinji Fukasaku filmed only one scene for the sequel before succumbing to prostate cancer, leaving writer of both films Kenta Fukasaku to complete it. Kenta says that he doesn’t consider the film his directorial debut but rather as his father’s final work, but is this an epitaph Fukasaku senior would be proud of?
Much like its predecessor, Battle Royale II begins with an unsuspecting class of unruly Japanese youths finding themselves fitted with ominous metal collars and standing at the starting line of a sadistic government initiative. This time is different however, as where as the original combined public execution with a snuff reality TV show, the new game (aptly named ‘BR2’) has been formulated to send the classmates to dethrone the dangerous terrorist and champion of the previous film, Shuya Nanahara. If they accept they will have to assault a heavily-guarded island stronghold. If they refuse, they die.
The vicious beauty of Battle Royale was always in the tragicomic potential of its ultra high-concept, and in trading the free-for-all deathmatch for a more strategic co-op dynamic the film retains the appeal of having a conceit with a more clearly established playbook than your average videogame. Indeed, the Cluedo-like elements of individual character’s back stories, unique weapons and respective locations is largely traded for a homogenous, Normandy-landing of panicked teenagers but the deliciously vindictive new maxim that each combatant must also keep a particular classmate alive or face execution adds a fresh level of cruelty to the proceedings. A nice dark addition to the narrative is the voluntary participation of Shiori Kitano, the vengeful daughter of the teacher from previous film, allowing for a welcome cameo by ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano.
Battle Royale’s ‘games’ have always been as psychotically intricate as anything Saw’s eponymous anti-hero could devise, but whereas the latter film’s strength is in the way it neatly ties up the various hideous loose-ends, Battle Royale II shamefully falls apart in the third act. Resulting from a plot development that removes any impetus to follow the rules of the game that traditionally underpin Battle Royale the film flounders as it finds itself entering the territory of a misdirected war epic. Add to that a poor translation, an intrusive musical score, a teacher that unimaginatively apes Kitano’s original unhinged master-of-ceremonies, a playing time that stretches a solid 90 minute concept beyond the two hour line and the wide-eyed, melodramatic death-scenes of 42 participants, and what could have been a fiercely delivered addendum to Kinji Fukasaku’s original political message actually starts to make a student’s head exploding feel routine.
“We declare war against all grown-ups,” declares Shuya Nanahara, and therein lies where BR2 loses its way. At the age of 15, Kinji Fukasaku and his classmates were drafted to a Japanese munitions factory when artillery fire hit the building, forcing Kinji and his fellow survivors to use the bodies of their classmates for shelter and leaving him with what he described as “a poisonous hostility towards adults”. It’s fair to say then that the apparently naïve declaration of Kenta’s protagonist are very much inline with his father’s world-view but it leaves the motivation of the film’s latter half in very murky water.
The original’s UK release was three days after September 11th, and so it’s fitting that the sequel attempts to tackle this newest atrocity through the same challenging role-reversal, beginning the film with the collapse of a Japanese skyline and the previous film’s hero taking credit for the act of terror in manner not unlike Osama Bin Laden. Maturing from the subject of how the delinquency of youth leads to greater evils performed by authority in the name of justice, the sequel builds on this tackle how marginalization can only lead to more radicalization, but while Kenta is evidently not afraid to invoke the USA’s bombing of Afghanistan, Japan and – as it observes – 20 other countries in the last 60 years, he lacks the strength of his convictions, failing to explain what exactly Nanahara is trying to achieve, why we should empathise with him any more than the next fundamentalist and even at one point who exactly is attacking as they resort to calling both the USA and Afghanistan ‘that country’.
Too ambitious by half, Battle Royale II attempts to tackle 60 years of America’s foreign policy in what is ostensibly still just an old-school exploitation flick. Starting off strong, the first hour is classic Battle Royale but it would be easy to then skip 40 minutes and miss very little. Kinji deserved better.