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Battle Royale 2: Requiem

I watched Battle Royale 2: Requiem the other day and right now, I'm wondering who it is that I can sue.

I'm a big fan of the original Battle Royale. I think it's fantastic. It's got a raw energy to it that I just love, and it's actually got some thought behind it. That raw energy can also be found in the novel by Koushun Takami, which I also quite like, and which I teach to teenagers who do my two day Speculative Fiction course. The book always goes down well: it's filled with violence and energy and tells you that you can't trust your government or your parents. Neither book or film are what I would call the finest made or written things I have seen and read, but the roughness, that unpolished edge to it, lends a rawness to each that is part of the experience.

Battle Royale 2 is, first off, a film looks like there was more money behind it. Bigger sets and bigger explosions and it's cleaner and smoother. photography wise. But that's not the real problem with it--the real problem is that it's a soulless sequel make for cash that is just flat out stupid.

At the end of the first film students Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa have survived the program, which took their class and put them on an island, and told them to kill each other. They had explosive collars put around their necks, so that they could be monitored, and if they resisted, they would be killed with a flip of the switch. Their class had forty two students in it, and over the course of the last film, that fought, ran, and turned desperate as everything unraveled in their lives. At the end of the film, Shuya and Noriko are fugitives, on the run--

And in the second film, they ran straight to a terrorist organisation in Afghanistan, headed by Sonny Chiba.*

Naturally, I hear you say. It actually takes about thirty minutes for Shuya to be introduced (Noriko has a tiny part at the end), and when he is, he's a depressed young man dressed in white terrorist Afghanistan like robes, wrapped in a poncho and holding his AK-47. For the next ten minutes he sits quietly, surrounded by burning candles, which are burning either for people the government has killed, people who have died working with him, his classmates, or just for the people he has killed. I was never quite sure which, though the scene, if you can get over the fact that Tatsuya Fujiwara (Shuya) looks slightly too trendy and young to be a hardened terrorist from the Middle East... the scene is actually quite pretty. It's the kind of scene you'd expect to find in an American Hollywood film, and I want you to hold that thought. American. Hollywood. Holding it?

Shuya has, by all accounts, been blowing up buildings in Japan. Good terrorist work there, and so the Government replies by kidnapping a second class of students.

The decision, I figure, must have been made in a conversation like this:

"Hey, Prime Minister? Say we use the army to deal with this guy? Maybe some planes? I mean, we know they're on this island, so why not just go and carpet bomb the shit out of it?"

"That wouldn't work. They're underfunded and tricky. And I don't even know why we keep the army. Useless things those soldiers. Go and get me a class of tough students."

"Are you sure? I mean, we've been training the army people with those guns and grenades. They seem to know how to use them. Be a shame not to use it."

"I want students."

The stupidity begins pretty early on.

It gets worse, however. When the students are dragged into the caged room and told what they have to do, they are also informed that the collars around their necks are linked to the student of the same number. Get too far away, and both your collars will explode. One of you dies, well, the other one will die. It's the last part that gets me. I mean, obviously, you send a class of students in to kill Shuya's Wild Seven terrorist cell, and what you do is make it so that if the terrorists kill only half their number, then the other half will die by explosion.

It's clearly a stupid film, but at this point I'm going with it just to see the wreckage. How worse could it get? It can't get much worse, and as I think that, the students are put into a series of little boats and told to storm the beach.

Just like Saving Private Ryan.

Now, I hate Saving Private Ryan. It's nothing but a right wing pro war film designed to feed into Steven Speilberg's racism. Hate it. It's intellectually insulting... but I will admit that the first thirty minutes of storming the beach is fine film making. Battle Royale 2 stops short of lifting it completely, but the influence is there, and of course, it makes no sense in the film. Especially since helicopters fly over the terrorist island, hence suggesting that a fly over by planes is not impossible. (The helicopters fly over to drop cases of ammo for their weapons. I'm surprised the terrorists didn't run out screaming, "Free bullets!")

Shortly after that, however, the surviving students race up and into the fortress of Wild Seven, who have, by this time, discovered that they have collars on, and now must help them out. So the students run up, and it's all Saving Private Ryan, and then they enter a small room and get trapped... and holy fuck, but it's become The Rock. The terrorists stand above the armed students, telling them to put down their weapons, and there's shouting and screaming and then, of course, a bunch of them get shot as tension causes someone to shoot.

Of course, about five minutes later, Shuya saves the rest with a device to turn off their collars. The surviving students, including the daughter of Beat Takeshi from the first film--she's looking for a bit of revenge, though she hated her dad--join up.

Which is about when the Government decides to send in the army.

I'm not going to explain the film blow by blow, but sufficient to say, it's stupid. But perhaps even more distressing is the happy picture that Shuya paints of Afghanistan, with it's happy children playing around the burnt out shells of tanks. Now, why it is true that you can find happy children everywhere, it's somewhat narrow minded to suggest that because they're happy in this country ravaged by war, that Shuya should become a terrorist himself and take the war to Japan, where he can level buildings and blow shit up in the hope that it will resulting in smiling, laughing Japanese children. Perhaps playing in the bones of their parents, but who knows? At no point in the film does it point out the difficulty of living in Afghanistan, about how things like running water and medicine are fought for, and how the people in Japan have a lot of things that those other people living there would gladly take. Now, understand, my point is not to launch into a long rant over that, but rather to point out that the comparison between the two is dishonest. The situations are not, at any point, similar, and should not be used in the comparative way that the film uses it.

There is, also, one last problem with the film. I'm not talking at the end when everyone is clean cut and happy and driving nearly new cars in Afghanistan (with trendy hats), and I'm not talking about the use of Beat Takeshi and Sonny Chiba in tiny cameos that were designed to bring in an audience... no, what I'm talking about is Shuya's plan. What the fuck is his plan? It's apparently such a threat that he needs to be taken out now, and he's waiting for them to come, but, well, all he does is broadcast a message on Xmas day on the televisions of the world, telling them to take up arms and fight adults...

Big threat, that. It'll obviously result in a change of power structure in the world, alter the Capitalist motivations of giant corporations, and end with a new world. Or,a t the very least, a new Japan.

Well, perhaps not.

Because after the message, they bomb the fuck out the island. If they had done that at the start, I would have been spared a sequel that's so messy and pointless, it ranks up there with sequel horrors like The Two Jakes.




* He's also the uncle of one of the students from the first film, but you won't understand that unless you've read the book, because the student is quite different in the film. Also, his uncle is dead.

Comments

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robinpen
Apr. 22nd, 2005 02:41 am (UTC)
Interesting to note that the director, who also did the first film, died while filming. His son took over and this appears to be his first directorial experience. This does not indicate the film would've been much better without this "hiccup" but is interesting all the same.

I think it very interesting to get a young audience to watch the first film knowing very little, then tell them that the director was 70 years old when he made it. For me it changes the meaning of the film if you realise the director was teenager in Japan during WW 2 and the Pacific War.

The director himself was known for his opinion on the pointlessness of war. He said "Battle Royale" was to show an insane Japan, as insane as when it sent its youth off to die in the past.

Kinji Fukasaku was a well respected film maker who directed 62 film (including BR2) specializing in samurai and yakuza flicks. But he also directed "Message from Space" and a my cult fav "The Green Slime".

I was very impressed by "Battle Royale".
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 03:19 am (UTC)
yeah, i knew about the death of the director. i didn't mention it in the post because, ultimately, i don't think it changes the fact that the film is what it is.

when i teach battle royale the book, i teach also how the film is different. the adaption of the film is actually quite interesting for what it does to the characters, and how it brings a six hundred page novel into a sleek two hour film, and who it chops and cuts back and down. i also teach the WW2 angle for much the same reason, for the message there from him, but i also use things such as youth violence (it's quite similar to the novel A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in that way).

i've always wanted to see GREEN SLIME and some of his other films, but the only one i've seen is BATTLE ROYALE. shame, really.
chrisbarnes
Apr. 22nd, 2005 02:55 am (UTC)
I can't comment on Battle Royale 1 or 2, not having seen them, but re Saving Private Ryan: the storyline was rather weak and implausible - but the combat scenes are excellent. Not enjoyable as such, but authentic, brutal and full of adrenaline.
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 03:21 am (UTC)
outside the storming of the beach, i didn't think the rest of the battles were all that authentic. more like alien films. have you seen THE THIN RED LINE? that's fantastic.
robinpen
Apr. 22nd, 2005 03:51 am (UTC)
The difference between SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and THE THIN RED LINE is the former shocks (at least in the beginning) but leaves one with a sense of sentimentality while the latter genuinely hurts and leaves one with an enhanced understanding of the human condition. Can you guess which one I think is better?
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 05:18 am (UTC)
and here i really thought you'd go for speilberg ;)

the thing that bothers me with SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and all of speilberg's films about germany and the war, is that the germans are portrayed exactly in the same way as they are in indiana jones movies.
angriest
Apr. 22nd, 2005 05:29 am (UTC)
Never fear! I am here, as always, to defend Spielberg - to the death if needs require it.

I've never quite understood the reasoning behind the "Saving Private Ryan is pro-war" argument, given that (SPOILER!!!!!) everyone other than Matt Damon dies pretty horribly in a pointless military exercise.

In Schindler's List, Amon Goeth acts the way he does because, well, according to most historical accounts that was what the guy was like. The only major changes Spielberg does is actually soften and idealise Schindler himself - and he's German!
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 06:00 am (UTC)
actually, one of the other soldiers survives. i forget his name, but he's also a director. tall goodlooking guy.

the reason i say it's a pro-war film is, to me, the under lying message of it is that this is the war we had to fight, the enemy we had to crush, and in all that, the individual does not matter, only the state. in, say, THE THIN RED LINE, the underlying message is that these are individuals in a war, no matter the background.
angriest
Apr. 22nd, 2005 07:10 am (UTC)
Edward Burns?

I find your response to SPR interesting, and its certainly not an uncommon one. When I see the movie I reach the end, and the faded American flag flapping listlessly in the wind makes me feel like war is futile, and tragic, and horribly, horribly sad. The climax is unfortunate, and works against the rest of the film in a fairly dodgy way, but for the rest of it SPR strikes me as fundamentally non-patriotic and rather tragic.
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 07:35 am (UTC)
yeah, edward burns. he's alive at the end with matt damon.

reading film (reading any kind of literature, be it screen or paper or radio) means you get different meanings. no one has the same feel. to me, the bookends add a whole lot of patrioticness to it, as does the refusal of the soldiers to run. also, to be honest, i didn't like the structure of the film, so as it went on, that mind frame continued picking up things that i associate with speilberg's other films. also, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN felt a lot like ALIENS to me, where characters are picked off, one by one, as it goes on. usually after having a speech.
angriest
Apr. 22nd, 2005 05:33 am (UTC)
Suddenly felt the need to add that I too adore The Thin Red Line, which is a fantastic, masterful film that everyone should see.
chrisbarnes
Apr. 25th, 2005 07:32 am (UTC)
The SPR battles were certainly plot-driven, in that certain characters die at certain times to build tension etc., but hey, it's a movie. I guess I expect that. By "authentic", I was referring more to the weaponry, the squad tactics and so on.

Yes, I've seen The Thin Red Line - I liked it a lot. Haven't seen it for a while though - now that you've put it back in mind, I think'll check it out again soon.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 05:19 am (UTC)
i get the feeling that the second film wanted to be about big and important things relating to terrorism, but just couldn't figure out what it wanted to say.

the second film, actually, was made by the same guys who made the first. the difference is that the original director died half way through, and it was finished by his son (the script writer, producer on the first film, i believe).
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 07:37 am (UTC)
i think it was just a matter of having money offered for the sequel. kind of like THE CROW. i quite like the first film, but there's never been a need for a sequel to me. yet they've made three, maybe even four now...
(Deleted comment)
angriest
Apr. 22nd, 2005 09:23 am (UTC)
The Crow was aimed at a slightly different target than the comic, I think - although revisiting both after some years I was slightly shocked to discover how juvenile both are. Alex Proyas does some good direction in the film, giving O'Barr's scrappy comic an elegant makeover.

The Crow: Wicked Prayer, starring Edward Furlong (the kid from T2) as the dead hero and David Boreanaz (Angel) as the villain, goes straight to DVD later this year.
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 09:29 am (UTC)
yeah,the true love revenge thing is a real goth teenage trick. you get older and it doesn't work quite as much. still, i dig the film, and still love the soundtrack.
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 09:25 am (UTC)
i didn't much like the original comic of THe CROW, but i think it might be that i was the right age for the film. i snuck outta highschool for it with some friends and it had all those cool music in it. just right time, right place.

they did make a comic series a few years back, and they have crow novelisations. the ones i've read have all been bad.
angriest
Apr. 22nd, 2005 05:32 am (UTC)
I got a fair amount of enjoyment out of watching BR2, moment to moment at least. The opening shot was extremely effective, for example, and I liked the performance of Beat's replacement.

It's definitely a very messy and confused movie, clearly rushed into production before anyone thought to pause and work out exactly what they were trying to say. So it's certainly a critically flawed movie, but I wouldn't think of it as completely without value.
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 06:03 am (UTC)
beat's replacement was okay at the start, but when he shows up at the end, in that football outfit... he just lost it for me there, though in fairness it's more the scripts fault than his.

there are some nice moments in the film, a nice shot here and there, and like you i did like the opening. but nice shots, nice moments... they don't make a film.
ninebelow
Apr. 22nd, 2005 06:28 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's exactly what I thought. Its a bit like someone has thrown a couple of Hollywood films, some video games and My First Book Of International Relations into a blender and then sprayed it onto the screen.
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 06:37 am (UTC)
yeah, and i learnt i wrote lucky seven instead of wild seven. thanks.

i forgot the video game influence. it's hard to wonder how i forget with boxes of ammo falling from the sky...
lokust
Apr. 22nd, 2005 11:23 am (UTC)
1) it's REALLY nice to see someone else who feels the same way i do about 'saving private ryan.'
2) i really felt that 'battle royale 2' was so incredibly muddled and ludicrous. rather like they sat around and said 'well... we have this grand MESSAGE we want to portray... and let's make sure we get the MESSAGE across! regardless of whether or not the film makes sense! as long as the MESSAGE is there!'
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 11:39 am (UTC)
yeah, but what exactly was that message? that america has bombed some countries? that the old men who run the world don't give a shit about the people beneath them?

hardly new messages.
lokust
Apr. 22nd, 2005 11:41 am (UTC)
basically.
which is another reason it failed to impress me.
it seemed basically to say 'OMGWTF!!1! AMERIKKKKKKA BOMBS POOR PEOPLES!!1!'
a fact that i was already quite aware of, and i've seen it presented better pretty much everywhere.
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 11:46 am (UTC)
well, america bombs people isn't much of a statement. many countries bomb people. not all children int he middle east are smiling and happy in the brunt out husks of tanks.

there were, granted, some nice moments. i liked some of the actors. the girl who played beat takeshi's daughter, for example. but as a film... nah. i have heard they did a novelisation of the film, or there is a sequel. i'm getting the feeling that'll be skippable.
studebakerhawk
Apr. 22nd, 2005 11:52 am (UTC)
Kinji Fukasaku died and someone else did number 2, thats probably why it sucked so hard.
benpeek
Apr. 22nd, 2005 12:02 pm (UTC)
his son finished it.

i don't reckon that's where the blame should rest. maybe with kinji it would have finished it (he died after he started working on it) but the script problems and everything were there from the start.
angriest
Apr. 23rd, 2005 01:53 am (UTC)
I agree - the problems with tjhe film aren't technical. It looks great IMO, and it's pretty well directed for the tone of the script. The script itself is where BR2 falls down - it's where 99% of bad movies fall down.
benpeek
Apr. 23rd, 2005 05:31 am (UTC)
yeah, i think the film looks better than the first one. but that dirty look the first one had, that really suited it. still.
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