Directed by Kinji Fukasaku & Kenta Fukasaku. Japan.  2003.

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Kinji Fukasaku’s controversial film Battle Royale (2000) has so far remained - to my knowledge - untouched by theatrical distributors in the United States, and this follow up, set a few years after the first film, is unlikely to surface in the US anytime soon.  Like the first movie, the sequel begins with a class of unruly school kids rounded up to be players in a violent sport named ‘Battle Royale’.  As in the previous film, they are armed with weapons and fitted with explosive collars to ensure their participation.  This time however, the game, like the film, is billed as ‘Battle Royale II’ and the rules have changed.  Instead of the kids killing off each other until one ‘winner’ is left alive, this time the class are ordered to storm an island housing the youth terrorist group ‘Wild Seven’, led by Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) one of the survivors from the first film.  The class land on the island, and in a scene reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan (1998), many of them are massacred on the beach by machine gun fire.  After losing more classmates to booby traps and enemy fire, the remaining kids are eventually captured by Nanahara.  However, instead of killing them, he spares their lives and deactivates their collars.  Nanahara recounts his experiences since the first film and lectures the kids on the injustices that face the young and other oppressed groups around the world.  With the help of his loyal followers and the survivors from the class, Nanahara vows to make a stand against the adult oppressors.  

The original Battle Royale was an intense, unnerving and unforgettable experience, and any sequel would have to really pull out the stops to try to top it.  Although this film contains nods to the original, the scope has been broadened considerably and the focus is no longer on just one class of kids.  The result is that the film - whether due to the absence of Kinji Fukasaku (who passed away during its production) or simply because of the law of diminishing returns - is not as unsettling or provocative as its predecessor, despite its criticism of US foreign policy and topical references to terrorism.  The new ‘Battle Royale’ class are not as memorable as the kids from the original either, despite the fact that a couple of them have very personal reasons for taking part in this new ‘game’.  Like ‘Beat’ Takeshi in the first film, it’s an adult character that almost steals the show, with Riki Takeuchi’s pill-popping, wild-eyed teacher a delirious delight.  As expected, the battle scenes are bloody and realistic, an effect heightened - like the first film - by thunderous sound design, but strangely, the shock factor has diminished, despite the fact that we’re watching helpless school kids forced into a deadly situation by fascistic adults.  There are some interesting references to recent world events, but they feel as if they've been forced into the film, rather than growing naturally out of the ‘Battle Royale’ premise established in the original film.  Still, you have to admire an action film (which also features scenes of broad comedy amidst the carnage!) that attempts to confront contemporary politics without resorting to simplistic flag-waving or settling for easy answers to complex and troubling questions.  As a side note, fans of Japanese movies will be delighted to see cameo appearances from a couple of legendary film stars.    

Martyn Bamber
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Material Copyright © 2003 Nigel Watson