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Monday, November 19, 2012

Battle Royale 2: Requiem (For What Could've Been)

Share on Tumblr By Craig R

A sign of a great film is that when it's over, you wish that there was more. Sometimes we get our wish, in the form of a sequel. Sometimes it works out (Godfather 2, The Road Warrior) and sometimes it doesn't (Rambo 2 and 3, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Godfather 3). Battle Royale, as uncomfortable as it could be to watch (review and recap here); it was an excellent film, which ended in such a way that a sequel was possible. I was personally looking forward that. Unfortunately, what I got is one of those times that I regretted getting what I'd asked for. I'll go ahead and tell you not to waste your time, so if you want, you can stop reading here. However, since I suffered through it, I might as well tell you why I hated it, just in case anyone wishes to question my judgment, I've been known to be wrong. Warning: There are spoilers. I can't really explain why I hated it without revealing things. Besides, this film didn't have any real surprises. I do reference the first film, so go ahead and watch it, or read my review, before reading any further. I'll wait.

To recap, in the first film, the Japanese government, in an effort to control their out-of-control teen population, instituted the BR Survival Program. This program took a class of middle school students, equally divided into boys and girls, to a remote island, where over a period of 72 hours, they were required to kill each other, until there is one survivor. The first film ended with two survivors, Nanahara Shuya and Nakagawa Noriko (you'll have to watch it to find out how that happened), last seen on the run, having been declared to be murderers.

The sequel begins three years later, during which time Shuya has become the leader of a group of rebels called the "Wild Seven", made up of survivors of previous BRs and family members of those killed in one. For the current BR, a new class of teenagers from a junior high school are selected, that includes many students whose parents or family members died in the Wild Seven's bombings (one is shown where a twin-towered building collapses, similar to the World Trade Center). After their school bus is diverted to an army base, they are herded into a cage, surrounded by armed guards, and met by their "schoolteacher", Takeuchi Riki (oddly enough, played by Takeuchi Riki), who lays out the ground rules of the new BR. Wild Seven is hiding out on a deserted island, and instead of being forced to fight, and kill each other, as in the old Battle Royale, the students are ordered to attack the terrorist group's hideout and kill Shuya, within 72 hours. The students, whether or not they're interested in getting vengeance, are forced to fight, through metal collars, which can be detonated by remote control (these are also used for tracking and eavesdropping), if a student refuses to cooperate. The students are put into pairs, one boy, one girl, and equipped with weapons and gear.

The best part of the orientation
                                                         

After their orientation, the class is loaded onto boats, to assault the Wild Seven's hideout. While traveling to the island several are killed by machine gun fire and explosions. At this point, they learn that when one half of a pair dies, the other's collar explodes. During the assault, it becomes apparent that the two of the key survivors are Takura Aoi, and Kitano Shiori, the daughter of Kitano, the "teacher" from the first film who was killed by Shuya. She is a "transfer student", not a member of the class, but requested to be included. After a bloody and futile assault, the survivors are taken into the Wild Seven's base. There, explosive collars are removed and they are encouraged to join The Wild Seven, to stop the Battle Royale for good. Shuya sends a video message to the world, in which he declares war on "adults" (whatever that means), and calls for others to join them. In response to the video and pressure from the U.S. government (referred to as "that country"), the Japanese Prime Minister takes command, and orders a full military assault on the island, which leads to the bloody final battle.

Charismatic Terrorist Leader
After the brilliance of the first film, I had high hopes for this one. The concept of The Wild Seven was a good start, the BR program was in place to control the youth of Japan, through fear, and was ripe for some type of attempt to bring it down, fighting the government, in order to prevent any more kids from dying. Instead, the Wild Seven is an al Qaeda-type group, killing innocent men, women, and children (there is a brief shot that confirms that children were victims) in their attacks.

When your premise is that your characters are (rightfully) fighting to bring down a tyrannical government program, they need to be sympathetic, and gain the public's support. If that was the plan, then blowing up a building full of civilians is not a winning PR strategy. Instead, it sets up a situation where the viewer may be inclined to root against the protagonists (or at least I was).

Instead of going the route of fighting tyranny, intentionally, or not, this film basically seems to glorify terrorists. As mentioned above, the Wild 7 is an al Qaeda-type group, and Shuya is supposed to be an OBL-type character. There is even a segment where he tells of training in a country that had been at war "for decades." The footage over which he tells this is pretty clearly Afghanistan. He is also shown fighting alongside other people that he trained with, during which, he was dressed similar to what is seen in footage of the Taliban.

The writer/director has stated that he aimed to make a controversial film. Apparently, he attempted to do this by criticizing the U.S. response to the attacks of 9/11, and the War on Terror, pretty soon after they occurred (the film was released in 2003). In the beginning, during the orientation session, Riki starts calling out names of countries, and writing them on a chalk board, then asks the students what they all have in common. His answer is that in the past 60 years, they had all been bombed by the United States, and then proceeded to give a number of people killed. His reason for citing that? "Life isn't fair." What the hell does that have to do with anything? Much later in the film, after the aforementioned video from Shuya, and the Prime Minister's taking over the assault, there is more discussion of the US. The reason the PM takes over is that Shuya's call for international war on "adults" has brought a demand that action be taken. At that point, there is a heated discussion, actually semi-coherent yelling and screaming about how "that country" bosses around other countries, and coerces them into helping. Also, something is screamed about "that country" using the good will of other countries to gain their help in our conquests after they "rallied around that country". "That country" is often referred to, but it's pretty obvious that it's US. The gist is, you piss off the US, and they start bombing you.

This film is like a lame Pop star who tries to be relevant, by being shocking, but instead, is just lame and pathetic. The original film was very controversial, but what it had going for it was that it did have a truly controversial subject matter, kids having to kill each other. It was a unique and well-executed concept. It was very compelling, fairly fast-paced, and had emotional depth, where the viewer actually began to care for the characters, even the heavy. Unfortunately, even though both were written by the same person, BR II doesn t have any of that. The writer, Kenta Fukasaka, took over as Director, after his father, Kinji, died after filming only one scene. Comparison of the two films will show how much of a difference a Director can make in a film's quality.

I'm aware that this is a film, and that I am supposed to suspend disbelief, but everyone has their limitations, and this one exceeded my capability to do that. The first thing to do that was the fact that the Wild Seven had built an EMP device, which they used to deactivate the students' collars. Okay, I can buy that, but then shortly after that, Shuya made his video, and broadcast it around the world, by taking over the airwaves. This prompted a couple questions: Did the device only affect the collars? Was it designed to only affect those collars? Was it too weak to affect anything outside of the room? If so, what's the point?

Also, the combat scenes, except for the beach assault, just weren't believable. The soldiers who were attacking the island might as well have been Imperial Stormtroopers. Even though they are wearing body armor, they're too easy to kill, and only succeed in hitting their target after firing thousands of rounds. They appear to be using proper tactics, and mostly taking cover, but the Wild Sevens stand out in the open, rarely getting hit, yet taking out multiple soldiers. Look, I accept the concept of the invincible hero, as in the Die Hard and Rambo movies, but those guys are usually professionals, who are trained for the action. The Wild Seven, and the students who join them were either trained in a terrorist camp, mastering the monkey bars, or had just been handed a rifle, a few days before, yet are effective killers. Also, no one reloads, and few run out of ammunition. That leads to the question: Outside of there not being a film, why even bother with an assault? The government knows where The Wild Seven are located, and the only rule of engagement is that the students are to kill Shuya. The logical thing would've been to just bomb the island into gravel. Instead, they send in a bunch of untrained kids to get him, and then end up sending in trained soldiers anyway.

The biggest weakness of this film, and there are many, is the characters. The original film worked well, as more than an exploitive action film, because of the characters, and their interactions. Even though there were 42 students, the film took some time to let the viewer get to know them. Flashbacks were used very effectively to establish relationships between students. This explained how some would join together for protection, refusing to play the game, and sacrifice themselves to save others. The sequel doesn't have any of that.

Most of the characters aren't very memorable. We aren't given time to get to know them, and understand their relationships. As an example, towards the end, one of the male students, before going off to make a last stand against the soldiers, professes his love for one of the female students. The problem with that is my first thought was "who's that dude?" Before that moment, I honestly can't say that I had even noticed him before. For that matter, I don't even recall seeing the girl either.

As a terrorist leader, Shuya leaves a lot to be desired. His character worked in the first film, because he was trying to survive, and to save Noriko. In this film, in spite of having survived the previous BR, training in a terrorist camp, and becoming a ruthless killer, he still possesses the same gentle demeanor. He's also got a metrosexual, emo-type thing happening.

Takuma is as weak of a character  as Shuya. His flashbacks are wasted, they don't establish why he should be an important character, his connection to anyone else in his class, or why we should care for him. It seems like his purpose is simply to have 1) have a male lead, and 2) for Shuya to have a recipient of his exposition.
Bromance
I had high hopes for Shiori because of her whole motivation for volunteering for BR (taking revenge on Shuya for killing her father). Unfortunately, that was all wasted, her flashbacks show that she had a very cold and distant relationship with her father. The only good thing about then is that the great Kitano Takeshi had a few minutes of screen time. In the end, not only does she not carry out her mission, she does the opposite of what she'd planned.

The only reason to watch, for all of two minutes
Riki was almost the polar opposite of Kitano. While Kitano was a mostly cold, calculating, and ruthless controller of the game, the film showed thay he had some humanity, and created some sympathy for him when he met his fate. Riki is totally unhinged, manic, and unreasonable. Pretty much nothing he does makes any sense, he speaks in non sequiturs, and his response to pretty much everything is to yell nonsensically. There is a brief, but effective, flashback that explains his derangement, but in the end, his actions totally negate its effectiveness. Apparently, Takeuchi Riki makes a living playing unhinged characters, or maybe that's just his personality. Either way, his character was another wasted opportunity.
Dude's totally craycray              
I give this film two exploding collars, and one of those is solely because of Kitano Takeshi's few minutes onscreen. Don't waste your time. Instead, go watch the original. Both are available on Netflix Instant.

It is Not Rated, in Japanese, with subtitles, and the run time is 2 hours 14 minutes.





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