The original Battle Royale, written and directed by Kinji Fukasaku, was one of the most controversial and celebrated movies in Japanese history. With a tremendous amount of hype building up to a sequel, Fukasaku declared war on political correctness and put forth his last efforts in Battle Royale II: Requiem. The brilliant director’s passing during the filming of BR II was a shock to all cast and crew, especially his son Kenta, who took the helm of the movie and vowed completion as a tribute to his father. Bearing in mind that a sequel is extremely difficult to match the ingenuity and passion of its first film, I still held high expectations for BR II. As a stand alone film, BR II is an incredible political uppercut to the Western notion that false Democracy can rule the world with an iron fist. Unfortunately, as a sequel, BR II did not possess the intense drama and shock value that the first film had.
Taking place 3 years after Shuya and Noriko won the Battle Royale and murdered Sensei Kitano, we now see the emergence of the Wild Seven, a terrorist organization led by Shuya that waged war on all adults of the world. The first act of the movie is a shot of Tokyo, where the Wild Seven successfully crumble a skyline, similar to the effects of the real life September 11 attacks. We then cut to Shiori Kitano, who has just registered herself for Battle Royale II, a new act placed by adults to eliminate Shuya and the Wild Seven organization. Shiori transfers to a new school, where all of the derelicts of society are sent for reform. Unbeknownst to the student population of Class B, they are the next class selected for the Battle Royale. Taku is the star player of the school’s rugby team, and BR II’s “Shuya” hero. He is also the most popular kid in Class B, despite his nasty disposition and personal anger management issues. Similar to the original BR, the class is on a bus returning from a graduation trip when they enter the infamous “sleeping tunnel”. When the students of Class B awaken, they are at the center of a media blitz, all focusing their cameras on the first contestants of the BR II act.
Reluctantly, the class is herded into a caged room where their teacher, RikiTakeuchi explains to them why they are there. Takeuchi goes into detail about the Americans (while only referring to them as “that country”) demands to kill Shuya and the Wild Seven or they’ll fire missiles upon all of Japan. The class is confused as to why they must participate, so a bloody lesson is given by Takeuchi depicting to the class that in life there are only winners and losers. Unfortunately, Taku’s best friend rebelled and became one of the losers. The class quickly finds out that they have corresponding numbered teammates, and that if their teammate dies, their necklace detonates as well. So two of the class have already been eliminated before the assault on the Wild Seven’s island base.
In a scene heavily influenced by Saving Private Ryan, the Class embarks on their first mission of landing on the island. Showboating an incredible amount of blood, explosions and panicked camerawork, the landing is a near failure as half of the class is eliminated by attacks from the Wild Seven. I was most impressed by the head shots, eye shots and necklace explosions of this scene, which often concluded with blood being splattered all over the camera lens, creating a voyeuristic feeling for the audience. The camera work during this scene almost made me nauseous, the camera man utilizing specific maneuvering that shamed the Blair Witch Project. Once landed on the island, the class then goes on an ammunition hunt as helicopters drop supplies all over the island. Once on the actual island itself, a handful of students are picked off by the Wild Seven, ultimately leaving about a dozen or so of the class to infiltrate the main complex on the island. After an unsuccessful storming of the castle, the class is captured by the Wild Seven and ultimately confronted by their leader, Shuya.
Holding many contrasts to the original Battle Royale, Requiem has a greater deal of hostility directed towards the actions of America, rather than the adults of Japan. Shuya has developed into a full fledge terrorist, often conveying the undesirable theme that terrorism is a good thing for the world, and that America is the cause of all the world’s problems. Frequently reiterating the fact that the U.S. has bombed over 20 countries in the last 20 years, BR II upholds a very Anti-American theme that would offend most patriotic folk. I can’t help but believe that this is the work of director Kenta, as an underlying theme of being remembered and loved is also presented throughout the film, one which was evident in the first movie as well. The Anti-American messages begin when the class is caged at the beginning of the film and resurface frequently enough for the viewer to question the motives behind this work. I realize that a big part of the original BR’s theme had to do with government authority controlling the lives and actions of the children, but I feel that BR II takes it a step too far when they consistently place the blame on America.
Another weakening point of the film is the failure to effectively develop characters and relationships, which was so poignant in the original. Shuya and Noriko’s interaction and backgrounds were the glue that held the original BR together. While watching Requiem I felt a certain amount of detachment from the film, almost like the characters remained strangers throughout. It was this unfortunate characteristic which will turn off some viewers that had a great deal of respect for the way the first film was made. Even the flashbacks of Shiori’s father Kitano held no regard, and seemed to be thrown into the mix just to state that this is a sequel, and not a completely isolated film. The “main” characters of the film, Taku, Nao and Shiori gain little attention after all of the gunsmoke dissipates. There is a slight relationship build up between Taku and Nao, but the annoying recurring terrorist themes prevent it from developing any further than 5 minutes of straight dialogue between the characters.
As far as action goes, BR II is stacked much higher than the original. Rather than having the “pot luck” of weapons, each of the classmates are given standard issue automatic rifles, and even the Wild Seven are well equipped with AK-47s and the sort. This eliminated all creative kills, sans the necklace explosions which were much bloodier and more frequent due to the partner system. The stunt work was flawlessly captured and added to the realistic feeling of war. Mortar shells rocked bodies as well as the camera, and each bullet fired was beautifully captured in Dolby Surround. My only gripe regarding the sound was that the music often overcame the flow of dialogue, blurring the speech and even in some scenes completely drowning it out.
One great feature of the BR II disc is well…. It's special features. This DVD is LOADED with all sorts of goodies to keep the die hard fan happy. Unfortunately, my disc doesn’t have subtitles on the extras, so I couldn’t understand the Kinji Fukasaku bio too well, nor the trailers or TV spots. However, the greatest moment for this release came when I clicked on a little option called “Warsaw Orchestra”. It was here that I was able to watch the music for the movie being created in all its raw glory, from the choir to the French horn, each instrument was represented well as you actually get to see the music being composed as if you were there. I’ve always forund the BR music both powerful and invigorating, so for me this was a real treat. There was also a Behind the Scenes featurette, as well as the Gala Premier of the movie.
After all is said and done, I haven’t given this movie a resounding rating because it pretty much delves into political madness after the midway point. BR II lacks the emotional drive of its predecessor and often drags along with the installment of Anti-American themes and ramblings. Again, I must bring up the point that the character development is extremely weak, adding to the frustration of hardcore fans of the first film. However, as an action film, BR II offers a great deal of gun play and excellent SFX that will color your tv screen red and tickle you gorehounds pink. Reflecting back on how the disc is put together, and the actual enjoyment of the movie itself, I'd buy it again knowing what I know. I recommend this film for those of you that have been anticipating the sequel, but please don’t get your hopes too high, or you’ll be in for a serious letdown if you expect a film that measures up to the first.