Battle Royale II: Requiem Review
Before Kinji Fukasaku passed away he vowed to spend the last of his days working on the sequel to 2000's Battle Royale. Despite his illness, Kinji turned down 24 hour medical assistance in favour of finishing as much as he could, knowing that no amount of treatment could help him at his terminal stage. When he passed away the directing reigns were handed down to his son, Kenta who finally presented an eagerly awaiting world with Battle Royale II: Requiem.
Requiem takes place three years after the events of the original BR programme and sees survivor Nanahara taking charge of anti-state organisation terrorist outfit: "The Wild Seven". His organisation has declared war on the adults who previously forced school kids to engage in war under the BR regime. The government finds itself in a desperate situation and passes a new anti-terrorism act called Battle Royale II.
The class 3-B of Shikanotoride high school are taking a school trip by bus and upon waking up they find themselves wearing metal collars and taken by a military outfit to a secret location. Here they meet their sensei, Riki Takeuchi who tells them that they have three days to hunt down and kill Nanahara or face a certain death by his hands. Given soldier's uniforms and machine guns they are soon sent out to the island where Nanahara and his group are hiding. The fight for survival begins once more.
Battle Royale was an incredible success in 2000, since attaining tremendous recognition world wide for its controversial subject matter. The film was interesting but its initial shock factor quickly wore off and left the rest of the film to deliver its message through all the carnage. When Kinji Fukasaku announced that he was to start work on a sequel fans of the first rejoiced at the news but the premature excitement surrounding his final piece of work has turned to disappointment in the end - Requiem is a failure.
Much like its predecessor Requiem follows a similar structure but throws in a few new twists. The biggest of these is the new tag system, whereby one boy and one girl are placed together and must remain within 50 yards of each other or else their collars will explode, in addition should one die the other's collar will also explode. No longer are the students left to fight amongst themselves, this time they must work as a team to infiltrate and destroy "The Wild Seven". And that is about as interesting as it gets. Requiem is a film that struggles for far too long, mixing heavy amounts of action and violence with morals and over dramatic performances from a bunch of teens who do very little to make their mark on the big screen.
The single biggest criticism that Requiem has received since its release is its unashamed and forced commentary about the US and its atrocities toward other countries, as well as the recent events surrounding September 11th and the after effect plaguing the people living in the middle east.
I shall not turn this review into a debate as quite frankly it has been done enough times (though feel free to discuss yourselves after the review) but I shall leave my two cents worth. This film is evidently sympathetic toward the plight of terrorism, it tells us to our face that only peace and freedom are won through bloodshed and it does indeed blame the United States of America for being the sole bearer of bad tidings. As this is a movie it is up to the viewer to decide just how far the film goes in terms of degrading or praising other countries, it must be remembered that this is happening in a fictitious scenario but the criticisms raised throughout have a place and so personally I find Requiem to be guilty of causing such unwanted anarchy. No matter how hard it tries to be smart it ends up on its face because these moments of direct attacks are unnecessary and don't have any particular relevance to the Battle Royale world. Quickly separating itself from the first film Requiem is a misguided piece of work that is both contradictory and in general wholly un-interesting.
Like the first film we have a fifty-strong cast of teenage boys and girls, this time kitted out in military uniforms. In the first film we saw them dressed as school children forced into killing each other and we could form sympathy toward certain characters and understand their desperation. The sequel has quite the opposite effect as the children, now equipped with military weapons are thrust into a battle that is beyond them. They quickly adapt to using their machine guns and do little else but quarrel amongst themselves in over the top fashion, but the biggest problem of all is how little we care for them. The film tries to deliver some decent character development but for the most part it is sparse and feels like a desperate attempt in getting us to like certain players as they talk about being too young to fight and how they have so much to live for. Well if that was the case then these cocky teens and many before them would never have been subjected to the "Battle Royale" programme as they'd already have a bit more respect for the world. Alas the class is made up of many different personalities, many of which reflect what is still wrong in the eyes of the government. What I find amusing is that for a film trying to tell us how war affects future generations it actually does little to allow us to sympathise with this notion. The kids are angry (understandably so), many are hot headed and are clear examples of the type of children that the educational system has difficulties in taming, so why should we feel sorry for them when better use isn't made of the situation?
The film also tries to throw as many morals and messages in our face as it can, until our faces' become red with the infliction of morals, until we've heard and seen so much by the end that we shrug it all off and groan because of just how pretentious some of it seems. One particular moment that had me sigh was near the end as the remaining few "soldiers" find their way out and literally see the light at the end of the tunnel. It didn't settle too well with me, perhaps I looked too deeply into that moment but for a second it feels as though we are having something supposedly meaningful rammed over our heads. This and many other moments including shots of children in Afghanistan gazing into the camera while tedious music plays in the background lessons the impact that the film tries to make, until the patronising effects wear off as the final credits roll. If I or many other adults and children are going to be taught a lesson then I would prefer it to be done in a better way than is achieved here, one that brings home truths and affect us in a way that we can come away feeling moved and deeply affected.
Battle Royale was not only controversial for its story content but also the amount of violence that the students inflicted upon each other. Requiem tries to go one better but the overall effect is lacking in any real shock value, despite the well handled but complete rip off from Saving Private Ryan. Taking a leaf out of Spielberg's book, Fukasaku (I don't know which one shot the sequence) directs the D-Day style landing with as much enthusiasm, although in terms of gore effects it is a lot less jarring and a lot more brief. The shaky cam approach is applied for most of the action here, that sees rubble flying everywhere and twenty-plus students being knocked off before they even get anywhere, again like Saving Private Ryan we have the nervous boat landings with kids throwing up and being shot before they're given a chance to fight. The problem pace wise is that the scene just mentioned is the best of the entire film. Fukasaku struggles to maintain the same level of action for the rest of the duration, making me wonder if it was Kinji who approached the landing as the change in styles would appear to be noticeable at times, there's just no real energy toward the end as the film stands on its last legs. If Kenta did indeed shoot all of the action then he let himself go early on.
Special effects wise the film does feature some technically impressive shots, that is when it isn't focusing on lashings of CGI bloodletting. Just about every shot in the film that sees a character receiving a bullet reveals a streak of computer generated blood that quickly disappears before the character drops to the floor. Had it not been so overused then it might not have been so bad but the effects achieved here are nothing that ordinary make-up techniques couldn't handle. Unlike the comical effects of Zatoichi, Requiem has a harder time in showing us the realities of war through CGI paint jobs.
Another thing regarding the violence is how the expendable characters die off without much fuss but the heroes are able to keep going on and on like energiser bunnies after being shot a couple of times. It's this annoying level of predictability that has me disliking the film even more. If that weren't enough, going back to how predictable the film is we know from the word "go" who is going to survive this mess, just like in Battle Royale the annoying character who stands out like a sore thumb, preaching to others is the one who comes out on top in a typically melodramatic way. Hell, the guy even manages to make the final reel six months later with his hair dyed blonde - Nice to know he found the time to do some things whilst being on the run as a terrorist sympathiser. No real spoiler tags needed kids; it couldn't be any more obvious if it tried.
Finally I'm going to mention the performances. I wasn't particularly a fan of Tatsuya Fujiwara, the lead actor from the first film who played the boy Shuya Nanahara and here he is again, this time as the leader of a terrorist organization who mean to do well but are no better than the adults they're fighting. Once again the melodramatic girly-like boy takes top billing in a film that sees him even more infuriating the second time around. I struggle to take him seriously at any time as he plays a central character who takes away from the film when he should be making a mark through his philosophies, which are actually really tired and do not make us care for him or his plight one iota.
Shugo Oshinari as Takuma Aoi is a poor addition to the cast. His character has always struggled with having a bad temper and he doesn't help his cause any by continually losing his rag. Oshinari is far too over the top and brash to be likeable and as a central figure we spend too much time with him.
In a briefly interesting but predictable twist (as we get her surname early on) we have the daughter of sensei Kitano (Kitano Takeshi) from the first film, Shiori Kitano played by Ai Maeda. Ai isn't too bad in her role but she spends far too much time brooding and keeping quiet for me to be able to give a proper summation of her performance. Ai looks like a lazy character who I suppose is meant to be laid back and cool but is easily subject to her emotions that stem from her troubled relationship with her father. Incidentally, Kitano Takeshi makes a nice cameo appearance and for just a brief amount of time he commands the screen and makes for a sympathetic character, giving his role a little more depth that it could have done with first time round.
Riki Takeuchi as the teacher (of the same name) puts in a sadistically bizarre performance that will either have you in fits of laughter or disbelief. It must be noted the cult video star who has worked many times with Takashi Miike often adopts a similar acting style so it isn't much of a surprise to see him doing what he does best. As ridiculously over the top as his character is he is the most entertaining actor onscreen. Toward the end of the film his character does falter in a misguided redemption scene.
The rest of the young cast are passable but most don't spend enough time onscreen to make a real impression. The only other role to grace the screen that is worth looking out for is that played by Sonny Chiba, who makes a brief appearance.
Tartan presents the film in a single disc armaray package, suggesting that they may well re-release this in future as a special edition, considering its lack of extra features.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen Requiem is given a pleasing transfer. Reminiscent however of Tartan's Battle Royale release it tends to be a little soft in the background and features a steady flow of grain throughout. Again like the first film colours are saturated which would seem to be a deliberate effect.
For my primary viewing session I chose to watch the film in DTS. This certainly offers bang for buck as my speaker system will testify (if it could talk). There is a lot of action in this sequel and audiophiles will relish in the booming soundtrack. The subwoofer gets a good work out, enhancing explosions and keeping you in the middle of the action. The rear speakers handle various effects superbly; with rain, bullets flying, rubble falling, chalkboard effects and so on. Dialogue is clear from the front. Overall it is an immersing experience and Tartan has done a great job.
I also checked out the 2.0 track, which is clear but naturally lacking in boom and bass. The Dolby 5.1 mix is very good and not too far behind the DTS offering should you turn it up enough, but it most definitely misses out on that extra something.
A little disappointing, this release could have done with some behind the scenes material but most of what's on offer is text based.
The original theatrical trailer that runs for 1:35mins and got fans excited early on by showing all the best bits.
Four pages dedicated to directors Kinji and Kenta Fukasaku offer some interesting insights but are too brief for my liking.
Some final words from Kinji Fukasaku explaining his reasons for making the sequel and why it was so important to him. There are also words from Kenta who tries to justify the film far more than it deserves.
Kinji Fukasaku Filmography
A year by year rundown of his directorial films.
Asia Extreme Trailer Reel
Separate to the extras page, nevertheless I shall include them. These are trailers for other Tartan releases: Gozu, Phone, The Eye, Audition, Battle Royale and A Tale of Two Sisters.
Battle Royale II: Requiem is a colossal disappointment - a sad film for Kinji Fukasaku to leave us on. His final vision is one that leaves many sore points and should have ceased production the day he passed, although considering how closely he worked with his son I doubt the finished product would have been much different had he survived.
The film will have its fans, of that I'm sure but for this reviewer I go away saddened at being so let down by such a promising film that loses sight of its own intentions.