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Battle Royale II (Kinji Fukasaku, 2003)

   

    Despite a fair amount of success in its native Japan, Kinji Fukasakuís Battle Royale never managed to get distribution in the United States. A bit too close to the hot-button issue of teen violence for comfort, the movie proved to be controversial enough that no domestic distributor wanted to be associated with it. Nevertheless, the movie managed to become something of a cult item, gaining notoriety through festival play and grey market sales. Battle Royale II turns out to be even less marketable here than the original was, given the current American political clime. The film is directly critical of US foreign policy, sympathetic toward terrorists, and, above all, judgmental of the concept of a military draft. Set during a Christmas holiday, Battle Royale II, like its predecessor, begins as a class of 42 high school students is selected, against its will, and forced to play a deadly game of survival. While the first film had the students facing off against one another, however, the sequel sees them forced into mandatory military service at the hands of a government that is combating a rogue group of teenager terrorists.

   

    Unfortunately, even though Battle Royale II starts with the promise of a new take on the originalís premise, it soon loses faith in its own high-concept setup. The body count here is front-loaded, with the number of teens dwindling down to twelve, well before the filmís halfway point. From the midsection on, the plot is overwhelmed by sentimental subplots, resulting in a dilution of the openingís visceral impact. Some sequences still work marvelously. Thereís an inspired sequence that mimics the style of Saving Private Ryanís Omaha Beach sequence with such near-parodic accuracy, and total appropriateness, that it demonstrates something that Iíve always felt about Spielbergís film: in its thrilling depiction of combat, itís more an action movie than a war movie. Like Private Ryan, Battle Royale II is a politically simple movie that uses pretensions of larger themes to justify its gory action shoot-outs. The start of the film deals with dichotomies such as adult/child, winner/loser, and fascist/revolutionary, and then, through the process of the charactersí maturation, shows how those simplifications are a sham. War is consistently called out as a childish act that adults happen to indulge in, and much is made of the United Statesí perceived tendency to bomb first and ask questions later, but ultimately itís inescapable that the main reason anyoneís going to watch Battle Royale II is to see teenagers blow up.

 

43 

Jeremy Heilman 

08-08-04