Review © Alex Apple, 2004.

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku and Kenta Fukasaku, 133 min. starring "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Ai Maeda, Riki Takeuchi, Shûgo Oshinari, and Ayana Sakai.

It's seldom that we here at Snowblood Apple give a verdict right at the start of a review, but rules were meant to be broken, so here it is: at best, BR2 is a car crash of a movie, full of under-developed plotlines and deus ex machina resolutions. At worst, it's pantomime, a pastiche of a war movie which, although trying to address some of the 21st century's "big issues" in reality skirts around them. Battle Royale itself was, to be fair, flawed in some respects (overly sentimental in places, cartoony characterisations) but nevertheless had a strong narrative drive underpinning its key question: could you kill your friends in order to guarantee your own survival? Battle Royale 2, on the other hand, dispenses with eliciting a similar emotional response and instead presents itself as an all-out action movie, with very few of the levels that the first movie contained.

It's three years since the events of Battle Royale took place. In that time, Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa, together with other survivors of other BRs have formed Wild Seven, a terrorist group dedicated to bringing down the system that created the Battle Royales. To that end, they've fought in Asia (against who is unclear) with Mimura's rebel uncle and have embarked on a campaign of terror - not least the wholesale bombing of many of Tokyo's high-rise buildings, no doubt intended to be strongly reminiscent of 9/11. The Japanese and US governments are getting increasingly exasperated with the group, and have managed to trap them on an island somewhere off the coast of Japan.

In the meantime, the BR law has been changed a little, and the ninth-grade drop-out pupils of Shikanotoride Jr. High Class 3-B have been selected for this year's event. Amongst them is Shiori Kitano (Ai Maeda), daughter of the teacher from the first movie, who has chosen to attend the school in order to take part in the BR. (Quite how she knows they are due to take part is never explained, and a massive plot hole.) As the class embark on their Christmas trip, inevitably as the coach enters a tunnel they are gassed, and they awake in a media circus, the familiar BR collars around their necks, and are herded into a makeshift classroom, hemmed in by a cage and dozens of hostile troops.

So far, then, very little different from BR1. The film at this point stays very close to type; if you've seen the first one, you'll know what to expect, and you're not let down. The class panic, the mean teacher (Riki Takeuchi, in full pantomime mode, about as over-dramatic as a Captain Hook in the Weston Super-Mare pier production of Peter Pan) arrives, and confusingly scrawls the names of all the countries bombed by the USA in the last 60 years as the class panics around him. Of course, order is eventually restored, and the teacher gives them the simple choice: take part in the BR, or die. Naturally, at least one, in this case Boy #15 Shintaro Makimura, refuses, and is mown down by the soldiers. And yes, this section is so reminiscent of the scene in the school room in the original movie that you almost expect Kiriyama or Kawada to be brooding quietly in one corner of the room, or a perky video to start explaining the rules. To the film's credit, the pastiche doesn't quite descend to this level, though it's easy to initially identify the Kiriyama character, the Mimura, the Kawada, the Noriko, the Nanahara...

Fortunately, at this stage the twists set in. The necklaces are linked together, so if the other pupil with the same number as you dies or you stray more than 50 yards away from each other... BAM! And so Girl #15, Kazumi Fukuda, meets her grisly end, which is a shame as she looked like one of the potentially more interesting characters - something this movie dearly lacks. And then Takeuchi delivers his trump card. Because each child costs about 40 million yen to bring up, and because Class 3-B is full of drop-outs, they are to attack Nanahara and his Wild Seven group in a military assault. This, of course, makes no sense, because with the necklaces tied together what chance have they got? Perhaps the idea is to soften Nanahara up a little, whilst waiting for a proper assault from professional soldiers, or for a propaganda coup (look! Nanahara, the tough terrorist, blowing up his own kind!). Whatever, it's not sufficiently explained, and, like the gimmick of the tied necklaces or the confused politics of the movie, really just doesn't add up.

In any case, the students are shipped across to the island, and predictably the body count is huge even before they land on the beach. In scenes hugely reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, the pupils make their way up the beach under constant fire from Wild Seven who, obviously, are unaware that they're firing on schoolkids. By the time a base is established, pretty much half the class has been wiped out already. The assault on the senses of the viewer, while visually very kinetic and fast-paced, lacks in one key area: by the time you start to learn the names of the pupils, they're mostly already dead. Character development is not strong in BR2, and this is something I'll come back to later.

From here on in the film really does collapse around itself. There's the familiar Danger Zones from BR1 (why? Surely all Wild Seven have to do is hide in a Danger Zone and pick off the students from there, safe in the knowledge they could never be reached...) and more melodrama as nameless student after nameless student is mown down for the sake of entertainment, er, I mean, political propaganda. Eventually a hardcore of students, led by (for the record) Takuma Aoi (played by a cardboard Shugo Oshinari) and Nao Asakura (a perma-pouting Ayana Sakai) and including the Kitano girl, make it into Wild Seven HQ, are captured, have their collars deactivated by some magical device Nanahara just happened to have lying around, bleh bleh bleh, does anyone really still care by this point?

By this stage the movie's just over half-way done and the plot holes suddenly become gaping - A necklace deactivating device? A moody Nanahara? How do the Shikanotoride Jr pupils, including Shiori Kitano, suddenly go from hating Nanahara to adoring him? And where the hell is Noriko? Possibly the only motivation at this stage to carry on watching the movie is to find out what unlikely explanation is given to all of this, and see how predictably it all is going to end. You just know at some stage someone's going to sacrifice himself for a girl he quite likes, and, voilà. There'll be another semi-tragic, unintentionally semi-comic, drawn-out death scene along in a minute too. Bingo! And all the time Nanahara will maintain his dignity/po-face, despite the silly frightwig he's wearing.

Maybe it's because Battle Royale 1 was based on the book by Koshun Takami, who in the novel spent time developing his characters and plotlines in depth, while BR2 was entirely screenwritten by Kenta Fukasaku, but one of the main problems of this film is that it's terminally confused. Here, the political situation is key to trying to understand what turned Nanahara from protective boyfriend to mass-market terrorist. When, in the briefing scene, Takeuchi lists the countries bombed by the US, the implication is that the Japan in the BR universe is very much anti-US. But later on in the film, America - or rather, "that country" - is portrayed as a country very much supporting Japan in its fight against Wild Seven. Equally, Nanahara's own explanation that it's the fault of the adults he's taken on a terrorist cause really doesn't seem hugely coherent. A possible interpretation is that he wishes to avenge his fallen classmates, to make sure that no other teenagers have to take part in a Battle Royale. This angle however is left cruelly underdeveloped - the Nanahara shown in the picture has none of the fire in him shown in the first movie. BR2 tries to show him as tortured, enigmatic, inspirational but instead he ends up seeming petty and insubstantial.

And characterisation is another fault of this movie. No sooner are Class 3-B introduced than they're wiped out. Unlike BR1, there's no emotional investment in the characters - you really cared in the first movie when even minor characters, for example the lighthouse girls, met their inevitable end because, for the most part, they had personalities, back stories, and were reasonably well fleshed-out. In BR2 the classmates are merely cannon fodder. Maybe the idea was to shock with the sheer body count; but instead, I was left cold by the lack of a solid introduction to the characters (either at school or on the coach) which left me totally ambivalent to their deaths. By the time the key characters of Shiori, Nao and Taku emerge, I no longer really cared.

In the same way, the depiction of the class teacher Takeuchi is clearly meant to mimic in some ways Kitano from the first movie - after all, every movie needs its resident bad guy. But while Kitano had believable bad-ass-ness, toughness, Takeuchi sorely lacks this. After the class leaves for the island, the depiction is pure pantomime: a pill-popping madman whose descent into rebellious insanity (and his eventual, inexplicable, suicide) is perhaps meant to be seen in light relief but just seems totally out of place.

This, a reliance on deus ex machina endings which pop out of nowhere, a final scene that manages to ape both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Blackadder Goes Forth, and just a very, very, very weak script coupled with no more than competent direction makes Battle Royale 2 a disheartening affair. As a piece of entertainment it's fine if you want to turn your brain off for a couple of hours and be vaguely entertained, but if you go in expecting the heights of BR1 you'll be sadly disappointed.

(A big thank-you to Mike Jonas's excellent site at whose detailed character profiles proved invaluable when writing this review.)

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 6/10
Sex: 0/10 - these are 9th graders, remember!
Violence: 20/10
Explosions: countless
Shock Factor: 0/10
Number of fake-looking CGI blood splurges: dozens
In comparison to BR1: like comparing a Skoda to a Mercedes
Litres of tomato ketchup: none, it's all CGI

***Recommended, but make sure you hand your brain in at the entrance***.

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Battle Royale 2 Wallpapers
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Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2004

Filmographies (some are linked to - we'll get our own up as soon as we can):
Kinji Fukasaku
"Beat" Takeshi Kitano
Tatsuya Fujiwara
Aki Maeda
Ai Maeda
Shûgo Oshinari
Ayana Sakai
Riki Takeuchi

Links is the official Japanese site. - Mike Jonas's enormous site, chock full of information regarding both the original and the sequel, and much much more besides - Midnight Eye's review
Make yourself a BR Collar with Mike Jonas' recipe: - Jim Harper's kick-ass review of BR2. - jpreview's usual thorough going-over

this review (c) A. Collingridge, 2004. all other text and webdesign (c) 2002, 2003 M. Apple Collingridge. All characters, situations and images remain the property of their respective owners. The text and webdesign of this site may not be copied, reproduced, mirrored, printed commercially or ripped off in any other way. Do not hotlink directly to images hosted on this site.