Battle Royale II: Requiem (2003)

Given that it takes generation war as its theme, it's fitting if uncomfortable that Battle Royale II should founder as control of the project is passed from father to son. The original Battle Royale was directed by veteran Kinji Fukasaku, whose career in commercial cinema includes odd Western-looking s-f efforts like The Green Slime (a defining schlock title) and Virus (not to mention the Japanese half of the Pearl Harbor epic Tora Tora Tora). The script, from a novel by Koshun Takami, was by Fukasaku's son Kenta, who came up with this sequel idea from whole cloth and took over direction after his father's death a few days into an already quarrelsome production. Part of the problem is that the first film, an outstanding high concept picture which married action movie business to the ruthless elimination logic of Spellbound, had an apparently open ending but was actually self-contained to the point of being unrepeatable. This follow-up is continually torn between the need to reprise or play variations on business from the first film and awkward attempts to strike out on its own.

Like many a sequel, this complicates matters (the business with the twinned explosive necklaces comes from the low-rent Rutger Hauer-Mimi Rogers quickie Wedlock) and tries to spice things up with gimmick casting (the supercool Takeshi Kitano, an icon from his own films, is replaced by a hyperactive Riki Takeuchi, a fixture in Takeshi Miike movies, also using his own name for his character; the daughter of the Kitano character is played by the sister of the first film's heroine, who became a substitute daughter for the teacher). In upping the action ante, equipping the kids with serious weapons (and camouflage gear) then sending them into a Private Ryan-styled beach-head meat-grinder, the deft character business that made Battle Royale more than just a sick joke is thrown away. Almost none of the new characters come into focus as they die, with only Ai Maeda – splendidly sullen and credibly a Beat Takeshi daughter – making any impression, though crucial information about her situation is omitted (like how she transferred into the class selected for BRII) and she dies without the film ever bothering to confirm that she is wrong in thinking Shuya killed her father (he committed semi-suicide by letting another character shoot him). This clumsiness is carried over in many story elements: there's a long, editorial list of countries the US has bombed in the last sixty years, but the film coyly refers to the superpower as 'that country' and even fudges identification of Japan and Afghanistan as actual places. It's also never specified whether Shuya and Wild Seven actually were responsible for the Twin Towers-like atrocity depicted in the first sequence and a key motivation for the attacks on him.

However, things really fall apart when the first round of gruesome battle scenes is concluded and the survivors make common cause with Shuya, who delivers an impossible-to-take-seriously speech about how children in Afghanistan (or an unnamed wartorn country that looks like Afghanistan) can still smile. Shuya spends so much time brooding and posing in his Mujahadin outfit that it's impossible to believe he could organise a shoplifting spree, let alone a worldwide terror campaign against all adults. Mercilessly protracted at 133 minutes, this has a defiantly anti-authoritarian stance appreciable in the George W. Bush era in that it does ultimately assume terrorists (children) are the good guys and grown-up society is irredeemably corrupt, but it's also laughably, dangerously naïve (aptly, given the age of its supposed deep-thinker) in seeing global injustice purely in terms of adults neglecting mistreating fairly privileged kids – as if being dropped off at reform school by a chauffeur were equivalent to being a Third World bomb casualty. In the first Battle Royale, made by a seventy-year-old, the kids were ultimately held responsible for their own actions, and were consigned to the killing game almost with love by parents and teachers who thought it in the best interests of society. Here, whinging, blame-everyone-else young 'uns get their say – and, as with the Matrix sequels, the major casualty is a franchise damaged beyond repair by ineptitude.

First Published In: Sight and Sound vol.14 no.6 (June 2004) pp.46, 48 (UK)

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