Three years have passed since Nanahara and Noriko survived the Battle Royale and evaded the authorities. The girl has never been heard from again - the first of many plot holes - while Nanahara has declared war on adult society, initiating a campaign of bombings. The government's predictable response is to pass a new anti-terrorism act, popularly known as Battle Royale II. War on terror reference anyone?

A few days before Christmas - one always wonders about the cultural resonances and how well they translate outwith the Japanese context here - a busload of high schoolers awakens to find themselves wearing the familiar explosive collars as their teacher, Riki Takeuchi, explains the situation: Hunt down Nanahara and his cohorts, or die trying.

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One student immediately volunteers. She's the daughter of Takeshi Kitano from BR and wants revenge on her father's murderer. Another refuses to play and is summarily executed, a move that then results in his partner's collar also detonating: Everyone has a buddy and they're going to have to play together and stay together - or die together...

The logic, however, is no more screwy than what follows, as our reluctant Gladiators enter the arena and do a Saving Private Ryan onto Nanahara's island lair. Seeing as they don't have ammunition yet, half their number are dead before we've established any emotional connection to them.

Much mayhem ensues as the students fight their way forward until, eventually - or, rather, halfway through the film - the survivors, including Kitano and the couple who are our obvious audience identification figures, find themselves surrounded by Nanahara and his renegades. Then - a severe case of selective perception, given they've just spent the past half-hour sniping - the Wild Seven notice the distinctive booby trapped necklaces. One electro magnetic pulse later and the devices are disarmed and can be removed, though the way death reports are still flashed up on screen later on belies the fact in yet another triumph of illogic...

Suffice to say, then, that Kinji Fukasaku's swan song is a sorry mess of a film. Its heart is in the right place, the director's formative experience of growing up during the military dictatorship and the war having left him with a profound cynicism and distrust of authority, but all that really comes across is a muddle of vague liberal humanist sentiments - state and anti-state terror are merely two sides of the same coin, both hurting innocent people indiscriminately - that sits awkwardly alongside an unquestioned command of action mayhem.

Maybe the same could be said for the Battles Without Honour and Humanity series in the Seventies, but at least there the glorification of violent, self-destructive yakuza was always balanced by a sense that they were flawed human figures in an believable, consciously demythologised demi-monde. Here, however, what we have is an attempt to graft real world issues - 9/11 and Afghanistan are only the most obvious - onto a fantasy plot that, working at a more allegorical level, just won't support them.

At one point one character says that the frightening thing isn't dying but being forgotten by those who remain. One can't but help think it would be a real tragedy if Fukasaku's contributions to Japanese popular cinema were to be overshadowed by this final disaster of a movie in which Gojira and company are about the only things not to get thrown into the mix. (One does wonder if The Wild Seven's lair has a Monster Island quality to it though.)

Let's not remember him for this Requiem...

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2004
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Japanese high school kids are forced to hunt down a dangerous renegade, or die.
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George Williamson *

Director: Kinji Fukasaku, Kenta Fukasaku

Writer: Kenta Fukasaku, Norio Kida

Starring: Riki Takeuchi, Takeshi Kitano, Sonny Chiba, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ai Maeda, Shûgo Oshinari

Year: 2003

Runtime: 134 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


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