When watching a sequel or remake, I try to avoid comparing it to the original, unless the sequel/remake in question goes out of its way to invoke the original. “Battle Royale II: Requiem” does just that, so let’s get any notion of “newer = better” out of the way right now. I didn’t think “Battle Royale” needed a part two and the sequel didn’t change my opinion. But it’s hard to blame the filmmakers, especially since “Battle Royale” was gold at the box office and evolved into a cultural phenomenon in Japan, even inspiring fashion trends based on the beige uniforms worn by the cast that include snazzy replicas of the explosive collars.
The original’s controversial reputation preceded it throughout most of the world, guaranteeing success in the countries where it was released theatrically and granting it instant cult status on video. At heart, both “Battle Royale” films are about innocence taken, not lost, from children by indifferent adults in positions of power, and what happens to these children when they’re forced to make life and death decisions they’re not prepared for. Given original director Kinji Fuksasku’s experiences as an adolescent during World War II, these themes were very personal for him. He witnessed firsthand what can happen when a self-serving government puts its interests ahead of the welfare of its own people, as Imperial Japan had done. Unfortunately, Fukasaku passed away during production on the sequel, and the directorial reins were passed onto his son Kenta, who also served as writer and producer on both films.
On Christmas Day, three years after the events of “Battle Royale,” a series of explosions level two high-rise buildings in a Japanese city. The guilty party is the terrorist group Wild Seven (a play on the Japanese cigarette brand Mild Seven) led by Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a survivor from the first film. Nanahara has declared war on Japan on behalf of young people everywhere, and rallies them to rise up and join the revolt. In response to Wild Seven, the government passes the “BR II Act”, which results in the creation of a brand new Battle Royale game. Once again, the “players” are a class of ninth graders, but this time they’re drafted to assault Wild Seven’s island fortress rather than kill each other. And once again, explosive collars on a three-day timer are in the mix, but the collars are also paired up according to the class roster. If one blows for any reason, his/her appropriate “Battle Royale” buddy pops, too.
You have to give “BR II” credit for one thing: it’s very much a movie of the moment. The bombings that begin the movie sees the twin towers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building crashing down. Watching them fall, you can’t help but think of 9/11, and it’s interesting to note another country’s take on the significance of that gruesome day in American history. Perhaps it’s because the WTC was in New York City, some other country according to the Japanese perspective, that the Japanese filmmakers aren’t squeamish about starting the movie off with such a provocative image. The obvious plan was to make “Battle Royale II” controversial, although without alienating the Japanese audiences, hence the use of 9/11 rather than some real-life Japanese tragedy that might hit too close to home. When it’s “the other guy”, it’s always easier to stomach.
The players of “Battle Royale 2” are a bunch of misfits and juvenile delinquents, the lowest rung of the academic and social ladder. As before, the students are abducted and introduced to the “teacher” who will lead the game, V(ideo)-cinema superstar Riki Takeuchi, portraying a character named Riki Takeuchi. After a quick rundown of the new game rules, the players are given their orders and it’s here that the movie fumbles, as unexplored questions about the merits of the film’s “logic” surfaces.
For instance, why send untrained teens to eliminate a terrorist stronghold, and then fit them with explosive collars that will double their KIA numbers? The obvious thing to do would be to bomb the living hell out of the island in question. By way of a feeble explanation, Takeuchi informs us that because Wild Seven considers young people their allies, the government will use the students for the attack instead of trained soldiers. It makes sense in a perversely logical way, but it’s a half-assed explanation at best, especially considering that the entire movie rests on this plot device. The “game” begins with the kids storming the island in a sequence blatantly ripped off from the opening of “Saving Private Ryan”, where a good chunk of the students get predictably decimated by Wild Seven. So much for Takeuchi’s “explanation”.
One of the most memorable things about the first movie was Nanahara’s unending whining and crying. He was a raging pansy with the panic threshold of a newborn gerbil. The sequel presents a “hardened” Nanahara, who likes to sit in a circle of votive candles, eyes wide and teary as he mopes like a pedophile in an empty Neverland ranch. Over the course of numerous redundant monologues, Nanahara details his profound hatred for “warmongers” like the United States (though never explicitly named) that are responsible for death and suffering all over the world.
Not surprisingly, both Nanahara and “Battle Royale II” prove to be both heavy-handed and superficial. Wild Seven claims to be freedom fighters, yet they commit terrorist acts that target the general public, some of which must be the teens they are presumably fighting for. Once we meet the Wild Seven members, you can’t help but notice how trendy J-Pop/”Total Request Live” hip they are. Everyone has perfectly highlighted hair and an immaculate sense of color and texture. In other words, they look exactly like teen idols playing dress-up revolutionaries. Sorely missing in the new cast is the average, unglamorous quality of the kids from the first film, something that highlighted the lunacy of their predicament.
Most painful of all is Riki Takeuchi, playing a caricature of himself, or what Japanese audiences expect of him based on his previous Yakuza and thug roles. Takeuchi goes all out, channeling Gary Oldman’s nutjob from “The Professional” as he barks orders and downs meds like Altoids.
But “Battle Royale II” isn’t a complete mess. If you’re looking for a loud, mindless action movie, “Battle Royale II” is certainly that. While subdued in scale compared to “Saving Private Ryan,” the beach assault is nevertheless still pretty hairy and damn bloody. Following the recent trend in Japanese films, CG blood is used in place of squibs and blood bags. The partner collar gimmick makes for some frantic scenes where kids react to their inevitable deaths and halfway through, there’s a tense Mexican standoff reminiscent of the SEALS/Marines confrontation in “The Rock.” Echoes of “Red Dawn,” “The Dirty Dozen,” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” are thrown into the mix as well. For a movie that is so venomously anti-American, “Battle Royale II” cribs an awful lot from American movies.
Kenta Fukasaku, Kinji Fukasaku (director) / Kenta Fukasaku (screenplay)
CAST: Tatsuya Fujiwara …. Shuya Nanahara
Natsuki Kato …. Saki Sakurai
Takeshi Kitano …. Kitano