BATTLE ROYALE II: REQUIEMENDLESS DISPLAYS OF STUPIDITY | April 29, 2004
Every country suffers from sequelitis at some point in time. As with those spurned by occidental production companies, Asian cinema has had its fair run of sequels in the past two decades. Some have topped the originals, some managed to entertain while being vastly inferior, and some have crashed and burned so extraordinarily bad you honestly wonder what the producers were smoking when they greenlit the film. But when it comes to sequels, I’d have to say Battle Royale II is to Japanese cinema what Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.is to the Hollywood machine.
Though branded a Kinji Fukasaku film, this is definitely Kenta Fukasaku’s mess. (Kinji unfortunately passed away near the beginning of the shoot). While Kenta adapted the original Battle Royale for the screen, with this film the son of Kinji is both writer and substitute director. Clearly lacking the expertise that made his father so great, Kenta has crafted a film that is as hackneyed as it is uninteresting.
Battle Royale II takes place three years after the end of the first Battle Royale. It seems that after going on the lam with Noriko, the nonviolent Shuya has gone through a role reversal that would surprise all but the most ardent WWE fan. Declaring war on the world of adults, Shuya now heads up Wild Seven, a guerilla terrorism organization that blows up skyscrapers in the name of stickin’ it to The Man. The adults have responded by reworking the entire rules of Battle Royale. Dubbed BRII, the system now focuses on using junior high kids for eliminating terrorist threats rather than weeding out the slacker element for the betterment of a modern Japanese society. The selected class is fitted in camouflage, given guns, and forced to work together as a covert ops unit to track down and kill Shuya. Danger zones and the exploding necklaces make a return, with the main catch being each kid is linked with a corresponding classmate of the opposite gender. (If one kid dies, his partner’s necklace also goes off.)
One of the things that made the first Battle Royale work so well was Kinji Fukasaku’s expert pacing. Though the characters were essential stereotypical cutouts of the different cliques found in any highschool, we managed to spend just enough time with each to honestly care about them. In Kenta’s sequel, we lose thirty kids within the first hour. While understandably an hour is not enough time to get attached to thirty characters on even a superficial basis, the ten that do remain for the next 73 minutes never manage to establish even the most remote emotional connection with the audience. Whether because of their endless displays of stupidity (I counted about half a dozen times where kids ran TOWARD someone who had just been shot to hell by automatic gunfire), or the fact that their combined on screen charisma equals that which one would expect to find in a cabbage, these characters become so annoying you actually yearn for their demise.
The violations of returning character integrity and the romanticizing of terrorist bombers as freedom fighters is equally disappointing. I can definitely understand Japan’s animosity toward the US (we did firebomb an alarming portion of their civilian population prior to dropping two nuclear bombs on their country, even though the Japanese were already doing their best to negotiate a ceasefire), but given the quality of the original film I expected a far more intelligent analysis than “Iraq good. US Bad.” We’re presented with the alarming realization that over the past 60 years, the United States has killed over 8 million people with its bombing campaigns, only to have it cast aside as if it was only voiced by the character due to some strange radio frequency picked up by a metal plate in their skull. Later, the Prime minister calls up Sensei Takeuchi, warning of an impending air strike by the US, stating, “It was only a matter of time before we pissed off ‘that country.’ Every time they get mad they bomb somebody.” Again, Kenta presents the audience with a provocative and certainly understandable argument that could potentially serve as the basis for quite a few scenes, only to have it drop immediately within the next few lines of dialogue. Given the pedigree of the first film, this is dishearteningly pathetic.
But that’s not to say everything is bad. Riki Takeuchi (playing the teacher, “Riki Takeuchi”) does his usual excellent job of hamming it up. Beat Takeshi (aka: Takeshi Kitano) has a very small cameo in a flashback sequence of his character’s daughter. Likewise, Sonny Chiba has an interesting thirty-second cameo as Shuya’s terrorist mentor. But three serviceable performances by some of my favourite Japanese actors are not enough to gain this film a recommendation. If you’ve seen the original, just pretend this sequel doesn’t exist. If Kinji Fukasaku were alive today, he would be ashamed to have his name on this project.