Dir: Kinji Fukasaku, Kenta Fukasaku. Japan. 133mins.
Blood squib for blood squib, Battle Royale, Kinji Fukasaku's last completed film did not show much that had not been shown before. Based on a best-selling novel about a "class" of 42 teen troublemakers forced to murder each other by a repressive government it caused shock in Japan more due to the tender age of the victims than the scale of the slaughter. Having been warned away by their elders, the young lined up for it on its release in December 2000 and Battle Royale ended up grossing $26m at home. Fukasaku directed only a small part of the sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem, before succumbing to bone cancer on Jan 12. His son Kenta succeeded him and vowed to complete the film in Fukasaku's spirit. He has done his job well: opening on July 5 in Japan, BR2 promises to be one of the biggest Japanese films of the summer, taking $2.8m from 261 screens in its first weekend. Meanwhile, foreign sales, which started at Cannes, have been brisk. Deals have been struck with Germany, Hong Kong and Scandinavia among others, as well as the UK, where Tartan Films Distribution, which rolled its predecessor out to a £251,215 gross, will release come early 2004.
Japanese politicians voiced alarm about Battle Royale, while Eiren - Japan's industry censorship body - slapped it with an R-15 rating, which meant that kids the same age as its protagonists could not see it. BR2's approach is different, however. Whereas the teens in Battle Royale dispatched each other, the ones in BR2 fight a common enemy: rebels led by one Shunya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), the survivor of a previous Battle Royale. The previous film skimped on character development, but the new one models itself on Saving Private Ryan: the body count is still high, but the audience get to know the survivors - and their enemies - better.
The most striking difference, however, lies in the film's politics. In Battle Royale the message was: insane fascist government bad, youthful love and friendship, good. BR2, however, reflects the post-9/11 world. Its villain of villains is an unnamed country that bestrides the globe like a new Rome and forces its client states, including Japan, to do its biding, while destroying those who threaten its power. Kenta and his film will probably not get an invitation for a White House screening, nor, as with the first film, a US distribution deal.
BR2 begins with a new class of rebels and misfits, recruited from the nation's high schools. They are taken to a secret army base, where they are herded by soldiers into a huge cage that is to be their "classroom" and informed by a sinister "homeroom teacher" (Riki Takeuchi) about Nanahara's World Seven terrorist organisation and their spectacular attack on Tokyo. Now his student are to invade World Seven's island base and destroy it in three days. After killing two recalcitrants to, as Voltaire once put it, "encourage the others", the teacher ends the "lesson'.
The subsequent invasion plays like D-Day in Saving Private Ryan, only with fewer boats, fewer rounds and the strobe set on high. More than half the attack force falls, but the survivors makes it into the World Seven lair, which looks like a Third World shantytown gone vertical. There they confront Nanahara and his gang and find that they have a common hatred of the system that could conceive of a Battle Royale. The attackers turn against their masters - and their masters soon come at them in force. BR2 ladles on not only the ultra-violence but also the sentimentality: dying warriors give heartrendingly noble speeches while their comrades throw themselves selflessly in harm's way.
Among the stand-outs is Takuma Aoi (Oshishiro), a hot-blooded punk who challenges Nanahara's authority but ends as his closest ally. Meanwhile Nanahara (Fujiwara) is a moody, Byronic type who waxes philosophic amid hundreds of candles. Shori Kitano (Maeda) alternates between quiet girl and deadly warrior, reminiscing longingly about her vanished past and her strange-but-kindly father (Beat Takeshi) - the homicidal teacher in Battle Royale.
Fukasaku may have sincerely tried to realise his father's vision, but he is 30 and his feel for the characters and material more contemporary. His references are not a boyhood spend amid wartime destruction and post-war chaos, but Japanese manga and Hollywood action movies. The result is something of a mish-mash but one that should satisfy most Battle Royale fans, not to mention Osama bin Laden.
Prod cos: TV Asahi, Wowow, Gaga, Nippan, Tokyo FM, Sega, Toei Video,
Int'l sales/Jap dist: Toei
Exec prod: Masao Sato, Hiroshi Hayakawa
Prod: Kimio Kataoka, Hikaru Kawase
Scr: Norio Kida, Kenta Fukasaku
Cinematography: Junichi Fujisawa
Prod des: Toshihiro Isomi
Ed: Hirohide Abe
Music: Kunio Ando
Main cast: Riki Takeuchi, Beat Takeshi, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Shungo Oshishiro, Ai Maeda