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After the death of Battle Royale director Fukasaku Kinji, his son, Kenta, took over directorial duties to complete the sequel. Now, thanks to the release of this region three two-disc set, UK viewers have the opportunity to form their own opinions on this controversial film.

Battle Royale II: Requiem

Film
Set approximately three years after the events in the first film, Battle Royale II finds Nanahara Shuya as the head of the international terrorist organisation Wild Seven. Declaring war on adults everywhere, Wild Seven launches a devastating attack against Tokyo that kills thousands of people (in a scene strongly reminiscent of the September the 11th attacks on America). In response the outraged government creates the BR II Act, a revised ‘game’ that conscripts a class of junior high school misfits to infiltrate Nanahara’s island stronghold and assassinate him. As before, the class are kitted out with electronic collars that will explode if they break certain rules. The main difference this time around is that the students are paired together – one male and one female – with their collars linked. If either of them is killed in action, or if they stray more than fifty metres apart, the other student’s collar explodes!

For the first hour Battle Royale II runs a similar course to its predecessor. We’re introduced to a ragtag group of wayward teens, who are kidnapped on their return from a rugby match and taken to a military installation where their suitably manic teacher introduces them to the BRII Act. This is all familiar territory for anyone who’s seen the original movie, but the film takes a radical departure when the assault on the island begins. After an admittedly impressive set-piece, things slow down considerably as we’re introduced to Nanahara and his cohorts, and it’s here where the problems begin.

Battle Royale II: Requiem

From around the hour mark the film becomes moralistic and preachy, with frequent, lengthy flashback sequences that disrupt the flow of things. There are also moments where, in the heat of battle, the carnage will inexplicably cease just long enough for characters to engage in touching farewells and the like. But perhaps the biggest problem with the film is the lack of emotional investment in the characters. Gone are the school uniforms, replaced by combat fatigues that serve only to distance the viewer from the protagonists. The original Battle Royale is a more intimate piece that takes time to show the relationships between the students, but this sequel manages to kill off a good portion of the class inside of thirty minutes. The characters we’re left with, save perhaps for Kitano Shiori, are simply too one-dimensional to be emotionally engaging.

Video
For me, the biggest disappointment with the original region three release of Battle Royale was the video transfer (non-anamorphic NTSC isn’t the prettiest of things). I’m very pleased to report that the sequel sports an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, which will no doubt come as great relief to many of you.

The quality of the video is generally fine, but it does suffer in comparison to most big-budget releases. There are a number of niggling image flaws throughout, most notably some compression artefacts and variable black levels, but it’s nothing too distracting. There is also some light grain present, but again this is nothing out of the ordinary. Thankfully the image is reasonably detailed, a bonus considering the frenetic camerawork in certain scenes. If you think Saving Private Ryan was hectic, you haven’t seen anything yet! All-in-all this is relatively good stuff for a comparatively low budget film, and it’s certainly a marked improvement over the original’s transfer.

Battle Royale II: Requiem

It’s worth noting that the subtitles are also a lot better this time around. There are less grammatical and spelling mistakes (although the odd few do slip by), and the translations also seem a little better.

Audio
As with the original Universal Laser & Video release of Battle Royale, the sequel arrives with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks. Unfortunately this time around the DTS track is of the 768Kbps variety, rather than the 1536Kbps track found on the original. However, the reduction in bitrate doesn’t translate to a perceivable reduction in quality.

Whether you opt for the Dolby or the DTS track, you’re in for an aural treat. This is a very active mix, with plenty of discrete effects and a familiar orchestral score. Dialogue is clear throughout, while the action (which comes thick and fast in places) is extremely engrossing thanks to some superb directional effects (such as bullets flying over your head, explosions etc) and thumping bass. The mix doesn’t lack subtlety either, and one of the neatest moments is when a character’s voice moves around the soundstage depending on the camera angle - a nice touch.

Extras
The package includes a second disc devoted entirely to supplemental features; a marked improvement over the fairly poor treatment Battle Royale received in this department. Thankfully, for those of us in the UK anyway, most of the features are subtitled in English. I’m very happy that UL&V did this, as it would have been a shame if I had not been able to enjoy both discs.

Battle Royale II: Requiem

Behind the Scenes is the first featurettes on offer, and provides an interesting look at the audition and rehearsal processes. Fukasaku senior barks orders at the young hopefuls, telling them to put more emotion into their performances and the like. There’s a touching moment at the end of the piece, in which a tearful Kenta addresses to the crew, thanking them for their help in completing his father’s work.

A seven minute Making Of follows, and consists solely of low quality footage from the film. I’ve no idea how this qualifies as a ‘Making Of’ documentary (it’s more like an extended trailer), but there you go… BR II: Gala & Orchestra runs for just under eighteen minutes, and is far better. As the audience arrives at a special screening of BRII, the orchestra plays a selection of music before director Fukasaku Kenta and key cast members arrive to introduce the film. They each discuss their experiences on the shoot and their sincere admiration for Fukasaku Kinji, making this easily the best feature on the disc.

Next we have a selection of Theatrical Trailers for both the first and second Battle Royale films and the movie Ghost System, all of which are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. Rounding things off are Star’s Files (Fukasaku Kinji and Kitano Takeshi) and a small Photo Gallery.

Battle Royale II: Requiem

Overall
While it’s definitely a poor relation to the fantastic original, Battle Royale II is an entertaining film with something, albeit a controversial something, to say about the current global climate. Unfortunately it does tend to try and ram its message down your throat, and much of the content is unlikely to win any fans in the US. On the technical side, visual elements are an improvement over the UL&V release of the original, the audio is on a par with some of the better discs out there, and we even get a few extras to play with. I’m still undecided on the film itself, but at the insanely low asking price (around seven pounds delivered) there’s no reason not to check it out.


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