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.