Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ai Maeda, Riki Takeuchi
“The thing people fear most isn’t dying, it’s being forgotten.” (Kitano, Battle Royale II)
I went into Battle Royale II desperately worried that I wouldn’t like it. All I’d heard from the (limited) number of reviews from the lucky people who had seen it at film festivals and the like was that it was a terrible film that embarrassed the honour of the original. As I love the original film to death, therefore, a shit sequel would have devastated me. As it was however, there was no need to worry: while it’ll never be as good as the original, Battle Royale II is an enjoyable film from start to finish.
Set three years after the first movie, the survivor (I won’t spoil who it is in case you haven’t seen it) has set up the terrorist group Wild Seven, in an attempt to bring down the adults of Japan. Wanted for a large-scale terrorist attack (suspiciously reminiscent of September 11) in which two towers in Japan are blown up, the Wild Seven terrorist group escape and take refuge in an offshore island. The Japanese government quickly passes the “Battle Royale II” Act, and another class of ninth graders is randomly selected to take part. This time the rules are different: instead of killing each other, the class of 42 must travel to the island where Wild Seven are hiding and kill the previous survivor. Once he dies, the game is over.
I was glad that they kept a number of key qualities and properties from the first film that made it so appealing: the dramatic orchestral soundtrack, the innocence of the children, the evil teacher that explains the rules while killing some slackers at the start to show it’s not a game, and the famous death count (the message at the bottom that comes up after a death saying, for example, “Boy #7 Yoshitoki Kuninobu dead. 41 to go”).
Instead of taking away many of the original’s qualities then, Battle Royale II instead builds on them with new rules. The boys are now paired with their correspondingly-numbered female classmates on the class register, and their explosive collars are linked. So if Boy #1 (Aoi Takuma) dies, Girl #1 (Asakura Nao) will find her collar is beeping. After 30 seconds or so it will explode, as in the first film, and you can forget all about her. This also happens when partners stray 50 metres from each other so if you and your partner don’t stick together you’ll be sticking to the walls instead.
This addition to the rules is cleverer than you would initially think. Not only does it allow for spectacular set pieces and forced teamwork, it also kills the “nameless” characters twice as quickly, leaving us with the important ones earlier on in the film, therefore giving us more time to relate to them and find out more about their personalities. While the original film had a wide variety of interesting characters, most of the pupils in the sequel are fairly generic so their quick removal is no big loss.
Despite the similarities to the original however this is a very different film, which becomes clear about 25 minutes in when the pupils storm an island on a boat Omaha Beach style, at which point 12 of them are killed in one go. There’s no methodical one-at-a-time chipping away of the pupil list here, and by about the half-way point of the film the whole concept of the Battle Royale game has been practically abandoned and it becomes more of a war movie with the students teaming up with the Wild Seven terrorist group and swarms of adult special forces soldiers coming in and getting gunned down in huge numbers. The whole second half therefore has a feel very different from that of the original film, and though it may not be to everyone’s tastes, it cannot be denied that Battle Royale II is far more action-packed than its predecessor.
Many were worried by the death of director Fukasaku shortly after production began and the decision to hand the rest of the film over to his inexperienced son. However, much as I hate to say it (because I respected Fukasaku’s work) this film blows the original out of the water in terms of visual style and camera work. The battle scenes are fantastic, with the erratic camera movements perfectly conveying the unpredictability and confusion of war. These scenes have a gritty, almost documentary-like feeling to the action, making it much easier to believe the students’ fear.
It even outdoes the original in the ‘mental school teacher’ role, thanks to Takeuchi Riki and his over-the-top performance. In any other film this guy would be considered ridiculous (see Takashi Miike’s gangster film Dead Or Alive, in which he pulls a gem out of his chest and causes the world to explode, to see what I mean), but in this he seems suited to the role as a teacher gone mad. Add to that cameo appearances from Takeshi Kitano (the original teacher), the girl who played Noriko from the first film and even the little smiley girl with the doll from the original and you’ve got a fantastic film for fans and Battle Royale virgins alike.
I warn you though that, from what I can tell by online opinion, I’m very much in the minority when it comes to this sequel. Many others think this is a dismal film and a rubbish follow-up to a classic original. Whether that’s because they were expecting more of the same or it just didn’t click with them isn’t known, but it’s worth bearing in mind that just because I like it doesn’t mean it’s any good. I do like some proper shite, after all. All I’m saying is watch it, but don’t spend a lot of money to do so.
(Note: the trailer below spoils who survived in the original film)