BR: Battle Royale 2: Requiem / Batoru rowaiaru II: Chinkonka (2003)
Label: Anchor Bay/ Region: A / Released: March 20, 2012
Genre: Action / Satire
Synopsis: The rebellious teen from Battle Royale is hunted by a new squad of teens drafted into a revised version of the B.R. Millenium Act.
Special Features: Available on Disc 3 of Anchor Bay’s Battle Royale: The Complete Collection [Blu-ray]
When veteran director Kenji Fukasaku died early into pre-production of the sequel to Battle Royale / Batoru rowaiaru [M] (2000), managing to coordinate a few cast rehearsals for Battle Royale II: Requiem, son Kenta took over, having written the scripts for both the original film and sequel, but what ultimately transpired from the novice director was a flat-out disaster: whatever elements worked so perfectly in the first film were utterly absent in this idiotically contrived attempt to further the story 3 years after the two victors disappeared as mythical heroes, poised to begin their own anti-establishment movement (er, become anti-fascist terrorists).
The premise – the revised B.R. Millenium Act now sends armed kids to route out the terrorists from a remote island and bring back the head of leader Shuya Nanahara (a returning Tatsuya Fujiwara) – makes absolutely no sense within the revised BR II world. Had the mission been part of an elaborate government-sponsored reality series, the plot would’ve been digestible, but the script decides to play it completely straight: high school graduates with no military training are ferried to the island fortress of the terrorists, and the Japanese military only intervenes when they turn sides and the world’s Ultimate Global Power (America) threatens an all-out military attack – because things are now getting out of control.
America is singled out only once – in the teacher’s oration to the latest doomed class of contestants. According to his lecture (and the film’s POV), in every country invaded by the U.S., there has been misery, and Japan is poised to be victimized yet again by Yankee imperialism. All subsequent character screeds refer to the U.S. as ‘that county’ – as though the filmmakers didn’t want to fully alienate the U.S. market – and there are often oblique references to the war in Afghanistan.
At the time of BR II’s release, Afghanistan was trying to get a handle on rebuilding itself after 20 years of civil war and Soviet invasions, but the filmmakers rather naively ignored the actuality of religious extremists who took advantage of the power vacuum and maintained a renewed reign of terror. The irony is while BR II ends with a sense Shuya and his cohorts will build a new world order akin to the Afghani rebels, the reality is the country remains a mess 9 years later, with international coalition forces, local forces, civilians, and religious zealots (the same rebels vaunted by the filmmakers) immutably trapped in a bloody power struggle.
The initial impression from the first scenes is that BR II will become a satire of a bored culture dumbed down to mounting their own Romanesque lions-eating-Christians spectacles. An early tease has a reporter discussing the need for the kids to get sponsors so they enter battle with proper gear, but it’s a red herring that goes nowhere (although the concept of wealthy viewers sponsoring game contestants was apparently picked up by author Suzanne Collins in her Hunger Games [M] novels, and remained vital to the contestants’ survival in the feature film version).
Fukasaku chose to crafted BR II as a political satire, but it feels like a pastiche because of an imbalance between the film’s ludicrous premise of kids being sent to hunt down terrorists in place of the military (riffing the Normandy landing in Saving Private Ryan), and oblique montages featuring footage of presumed civilian survivors of the Afghan wars.
None of the characters are distinctive, and that includes a returning Shuya (now resembling a reticent, moping Mad Max); and Shiori Kitano (Ai Maeda), the daughter of teacher Takeshi Kitano from BR I, who chose to increase her chances of being snatched for the BR Millenium games to better understand her estranged (and now deceased) father – a ludicrous contrivance, and attempt to introduce a ‘new’ face to what the producers hoped would be the start of a new BR franchise.
The preachiness that pervades the finale is extraordinary, yet none of the words uttered by the terrorists, the fascist military, the Japanese President, or anyone have much purpose. The orations run-on at unbearable length and bloat the running time past 2 hours into a rambling bore. Like BR I, the film was reissued with more footage, but in light of the poor critical reception, BR II’s new incarnation – augmented with 20 mins. of footage, and rebranded Battle Royale II: Revenge Special Edition – apparently went straight to video. (The longer cut was released in Asia, and more precise details are available at Movie-Censirship.com.)
Riki Takeuchi’s portrayal of the same-named, duplicitous teacher is somewhat entertaining for being highly stylized, and his motivation to become a sadist has some logic – bloody revenge for the terrorists’ implosion of an building that killed his daughter – but his sudden siding with the terrorists in the third act makes no sense (nor does his final appearance in soccer fatigues, after resembling a Nazi commandant with Elvis hair for most of the film. Nevermind how he managed to change clothes and enter their lair fully unblemished).
Fukasaku also made one major blunder in his screenplay: by having all the kids remain together, he’s stuck with trying to give 20-30 bland kids something to do, and after the group is significantly reduced during the beach assault, they meet more bland kids (Shuya’s Wild Seven terrorist clan). Unlike BR I, where the narrative flips between different kids and the adult game lords, Fukasaku is stuck with the adults and the entire lot of kids, and he utterly fails to offer any new material that distinguishes even a handful of the teens. Shuya’s group have also designed their lair after the post-apocalyptic Mad Max template, which is far less interesting than the genuine abandoned ruins which should’ve been fully exploited by the director.
The most perplexing aspect of BR II is that this mess was apparently planned by Kenji Fukasaku prior to his death, so the existing script flaws – including the 9/11 parallels, anti-American subtext, and pro-terrorist screeds - would’ve been present had he lived to fully complete the film. However, if the taut editorial style of BR I is an example of Fukasaku’s preferred action pacing (and it is, given it’s prevalent in nonsense like The Green Slime), then it’s fair to presume the redundant and most problematic material would’ve been cut down or eliminated – something son Kenta had yet to learn prior to choosing such a high profile directorial debut.
The 20 minutes of additional material within the longer cut reportedly expand a few character backstories, but as a whole, the teens are a homogenous glob of high school kids, and the common trait of guys bearing bleached dirty blonde hair makes it touch at times to sort out new hero Takuma Aoi (Shugo Oshinari) and his generic classmates.
The utter failure of BR II meant a separate home release was pointless, which is why in the current Korean, British, and North American special edition sets include BR II as a bonus – an extra sharing the same value as ephemeral making-of featurettes.
However, the few prior separate BR II editions in Asia and in England (via Tartan) offered a mix of theatrical + expanded cuts and various featurettes, some of which were gathered by Anchor Bay in their Complete Collection (and are assessed here).
The good news is the film looks and sounds great on Blu, but fans will wish BR II never existed. There is the temptation to test prior critical derisions and find a misjudged misfire with marginal merits and watch the whole mess again.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review