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Battle Royale II
NOTE: This DVD is coded for playback in Region 3. It will only work in DVD players that are region free or coded for Region 3 playback.
In 2000, Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku took the cult move world by storm with his nihilistic tale of Japanese students forced into combat against each other in Battle Royale. Despite the lack of a legitimate DVD release in North America, the film has been pretty much universally praised and it remains arguably the director's best known film on this side of the Pacific Ocean. This was one of those rare films that lived up to the hype, and it's influence is still rippling across genre films even now, four years later (just watch Chiaki Kuriyama's turn in Kill Bill if you don't believe me).
When it was announced in 2002 that Kinji was going to get back behind the camera to film a sequel with Takashi Kitano returning to his role and this time joined by Japanese V-Cinema star and Takashi Miike stalwart Riki Takeuchi in a prime part, my fingers tingled with anticipation. Add to that the fact that Sonny 'The Bad Man From Japan' Chiba was going to have a cameo, I figured there was no way that this couldn't be hands down the coolest movie of the year. With Kinji returning as director and a cast like that, how could it go wrong? It almost seemed like a no brainer.
When the movie hit, I was dying to see it. As soon as I saw a bootleg copy floating around on Ebay I foolishly plunked down for it and a few days later, sat down to take in what I knew had to be a great follow up to a great film. Sadly, the end result had me slapping myself not only to stay awake, but to keep from hitting the fast forward button on my remote control. I'd hoped rewatching it for this review might elevate my opinion of it, but sadly it just reinforced it even more.
Battle Royale II: Requiem is weak.
The basic plot behind the storyline is this. Set three years after the grisly events in the first film, BR Act survivor Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara returning to his role) is now a world famous terrorist. His goal isn't too different from that of most terrorists operating below the radar – he wants to take down the Japanese government. How does the Japanese government respond to his actions? The create a second Battle Royale program to train and breed another group of high school kids to hunt down and kill him.
That's the story in a nutshell, and on the surface, given the current state of world affairs, it sounds like an interesting premise. Couple that with the ballsy move of showing two twin towers crumbling in what is obviously supposed to replicate the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 and the sheer guts it would take to put a terrorist in the lead of an anti-hero, and again, it sounds like Battle Royale II really could have been an interesting film.
The movie does get a few things right – the action scenes play like a cross between those seen in Kinji Fukasaku's infamous Yakuza films of the 1970s, and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. The camera work is chaotic and erratic and it does a good job of putting you in the moment. These scenes are intense and gripping and when the bodies start falling, and believe me, they do, you're almost waiting to get hit by a stray bullet yourself. The actions scenes are handled very well – sadly, this is more than just a nasty action movie. If it had been just that, I'd have been able to at least enjoy it, even if it lacked the symbolism, and nihilistic social commentary that the first movie so perfectly played upon.
Instead, and here's where the movie goes painfully wrong, it tries to up the ante in that department. Here the symbolism becomes so heavy handed that it ceases to be symbolism or a social critique of any kind and instead morphs into this bizarre sympathetic portrayal of terrorists fighting the good fight. When one character gives a speech about the glory of the AK-47 and the video in turn shows images of Afghani citizens, it's hard not to miss the anti-American sentiment of the film. It's about as subtle as a brick to the head, and rather than let the viewer draw his or her own conclusions about the morals of the film, it smacks you over the head with them until you start to numb to it all and desperately want it to stop.
And you know what? I'd have been able to deal with all of this if it were handled well. I'm well aware of some of the hypocrisies of American foreign policy and the current War On Terror. Some of the chinks in the armor do very much open themselves up for criticism and great art always seems to imitate life, doesn't it? But unfortunately the heavy handedness and fact that the speeches are so contrived, drawn out, and just plain boring mire the film in its own politics, taking away any entertainment value or artistic merit that it should have had.
It's a well known fact that Kinji Fukasaku died during the early stages of production on this film. What should have been his swansong was instead finished by his son, Kenta Fukasaku, who co-wrote both of the Battle Royale films, the first one an adaptation of the excellent novel by Koushun Takami (now available in an English language edition from VIZ). This has worked in a similar situation in the past, when Lamberto Bava did a great job of finishing up his late father Mario's final film, Rabid Dogs. Here, however, Kenta Fukasaku shows his inexperience as a director and while there are some great 'Fukasaku Sr. moments' in the film, it ultimately ends up a jumbled, drawn out mess of a film that really could have been a winner.
At least it's got a Sonny Chiba cameo and lots of explosions in it.The DVD
The black levels are slightly up and down on this transfer and there are some mild compression artifacts but aside from that and some very slight grain and print damage, this isn't a bad looking transfer. Kinji Fukasaku's trademark shakey cam action looks nice and detailed and the colors are distinct and natural looking in this 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Some of the colors are intentionally muted looking in a couple of scenes but for the most part, the oranges and reds of the fires in the background of the battle scenes look nice and rich, black levels stay pretty consistent in tone aside from a couple of scenes where they do move around, and flesh tones look lifelike and natural. There's a decent level of clarity present in the film, and aside from the minor issues noted, Battle Royale II: Requiem doesn't look half bad.Sound:
Universe Laser has supplied two Surround Sound mixes on this DVD, a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix and a DTS 5.1 Surround Sound mix, both of which are in their native Japanese language. It doesn't matter which of the two mixes you choose, either one sounds just great. Both tracks are very aggressive and really pump up the action scenes. Gunfire zips around your head from all angles during the firefights, and when explosions go off your subwoofer gets hit hard, providing a nice rumble to the lower end of the sound effects. Dialogue is nice and clear and the score, one of the best parts of the film, rises up over top of the chaos and noise with some very nice clarity. Directional effects are plentiful and accurate, and even vocal positioning seems pretty much dead on in this mix.
There are optional subtitles available in traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, and English. I can't testify as to the accuracy of the Chinese subtitles but the English ones are, thankfully, almost completely free of typos (a rarity for a Hong Kong release) and are quite easy to read and follow.Extras:
In this two disc set, Universe wisely puts all of the extra features on the second discs, allowing more room for the feature on the first and theoretically reducing compression issues in the process. Here's what you'll find on the second disc, in the order in which it is laid out off of the main menu:
First up on the list are two biographies – one a piece for director Kinji Fukasaku and actor 'Beat' Takashi Kitano. There text based features are available in either Chinese or English language versions and while long time fans of either man won't likely find anything new in here, they do provide a decent general overview of their work and their careers.
Next up is the trailer for Battle Royale II: Requiem. It is presented with out subtitles of any kind and is in its native Japanese language. The trailer is presented in non anamorphic widescreen and makes the film look a lot more exciting than it really is.
BR II: Behind The Scenes is a 7:52 long look at the making of the film and how it all went down behind the camera. Optional English and Chinese subtitles make this one easy to follow and we get to see the late Kinji Fukasaku working with some of the young actors cast in major roles in the film, and then later we get to see his son, Kenta Fukasaku, take up where he left off after his passing, handling directorial chores on the later parts of production.
BR II: Making Of runs for seven minutes and seven seconds and has absolutely no footage of or relation to the making of the film at all. Why this piece, which is nothing more than clips from the film edited together, was called 'making of' is beyond me, but hey, there you go. This plays more like a lengthy trailer or promotional reel. There are English and Chinese subtitles available for this segment as well.
BR II: The Gala And The Orchestra is the longest of the extra features clocking in at four seconds shy of eighteen minutes in length, and it's also the most interesting. This piece is more or less split into two chunks – the first is some nice footage of the orchestra performing and recording the instrumental score used throughout the film. The second is an on stage question and answer session with Riki Taekuchi, Kenta Fukasaku, and three of the younger actors from the film. Takashi Kitano is not present unfortunately and sadly, by this point in time, Kinji had passed on (there is a big poster sized picture of the late director hanging in the background during this press conference). The cast and crew discuss their involvement in the film, how it was to work together, and their relationships with the late Fukasaku Sr.. Again, there are English and Chinese subtitles available for this feature.
Finishing off the extra features are trailers for the original Battle Royale as well as for Ghost System, and a very small image gallery consisting of nine screen shots from the movie.Final Thoughts:
Battle Royale II: Requiem doesn't even come close to the greatness of its predecessor. In all fairness, having two directors gives the film a very disjointed feel but the heavy handed politics and overly long running time full of poorly written speeches makes the movie drag despite some truly fantastic action set pieces. Universe Laser's DVD looks pretty good, sound terrific, and does contain some decent extra features (thankfully most of which are subbed in English) but that isn't enough to earn this DVD more than a 'skip it' rating.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.