Thursday, 31 March 2011

Battle Royale II: Requiem

Another in a long line of sequels that spectacularly fail to live up to the standards set by the original. To say Battle Royale II is a poor film though, doesn't nearly do justice to the massive levels of incompetence on display here. Where Battle Royale brilliantly walks the tightrope between the twin towers of bombast and credibility, BRII plunges headlong into the abyss, pulling the towers down with it. Ultra-violent, yet cloyingly sentimental, it appears to justify its over-long run time by presenting itself as a war epic with a powerful message about humanity at its core. It's the text book definition of overreaching.

The basic premise is that the original BR act passed by the government has led to youth-based terrorist activity. The only way to quell this unrest is to pass a new act, BRII, allowing the evil grown-ups to kidnap another bus-load of wide-eyed urchins and send them off to do battle with the terrorists. Cue a drawn out re-hash of the first film with none of the wit or originality. Aside from a tedious amount of self-referencing, there are a variety of cringe-worthy references to other films as well; from Shuya and Taku's last stand (Butch Cassidy) to the beach landing, shot on patented Shaky-Cam - a Fisher Price re-enactment of Saving Private Ryan's incredible opening sequence.

Riki Takeuchi, who was so good as the enigmatic Ryuichi in Miike's Dead Or Alive, is plain horrible here - hamming it up like pork was going out of fashion. Shuya, who cut a sympathetic figure in the first film, has got to be one of the least convincing terrorists in cinematic history; with his daft robes and airbrushed anime face, he looks like he'd be more at home doing Final Fantasy Cosplay than saving the world. In fact, the whole 'Wild Seven' group (now why does that make me crave a certain brand of Japanese cigarette I wonder) are laughable. Who funds them? Other kids? Where do they get their RPGs and assault rifles? Where do they learn to effect global computer hacks by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Delete on their Combat Edition iPads?

The idea that the government would send in ground troops to take out a small terrorist faction conveniently holed up on an island also defies belief. But when they do finally go in, we're supposed to believe that a rag-tag bunch of kids with no training could take on Japan's military elite and win. What really sticks in the craw though, is not the foolish simplicity of the film's Peter Pan With Guns ideology, or even its muddled, infantile grasp of politics; it's the glamorization of terrorism (typified by Shuya's gushing about the AK-47 being the universal symbol of resistance as if he were talking about a Pokemon card); it's the staggeringly patronizing attitude it takes to the unnamed Middle Eastern country where Shuya and his gang end up. Even in a country that has suffered war for 20 years, we're told (for the second time), the grass is still green in Spring and the childrens' eyes still shine with dewy optimism. As long as there's hope, everything's gonna be just fine.

バトル・ロワイアル II
Dir. Kenta Fukasaku / Kinji Fukasaku, 2003

Thursday, 24 March 2011


More often that not, a low rating on IMDb is a sure sign that a film is a turkey, but once in a while it's a sign that a lot of people just haven't got it. I think Raigyo falls into this second camp.

It's sold as 'Pinku Eiga' ('Pink Cinema' - Japan's surprisingly creative take on Erotica) but there's not a lot of sex, and virtually no eroticism to justify the tag. Instead we get a bleak, but engaging journey into mental illness, disconnection and psychopathy. If I'm honest, after watching the yawn-fest that was Kokkuri, I didn't expect much from Zeze, but here he proves himself to be a filmmaker of some skill. Raigyo perfectly captures a sense of desolate liminality - the action taking place in a part-marshland, part-industrial hinterland. The characters too, hover somewhere between intrigue and inscrutability; misfits, like the snake-headed fish of the film's title.

Given its short run time (75 mins), Raigyo, is, if anything, a little too opaque for its own good. The violence is explicit - and shocking in its banality - but the protagonists' motivations and back stories are barely fleshed out at all. We're plunged right into the here and now, and, like the police in the film, left to fill in the blanks. The final CCTV tracking shot brings this point home, as Yanai and his strange companion disappear into the crowd. In a way though, its refusal to explain is a large part of the film's appeal.

Dir. Takahisa Zeze, 1997