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War - what is it good for?
on 27 July 2004
The first BR was the sort of film that you either loved due to pushing the envelope further than deemed possible, or hated because you hadn't seen it, but the Daily Mail said it was "EVIL!!!". So, when a sequel comes along, promising to take the initial premise one giant leap further, you expect fireworks. Do we get them? Well...
Things start off with a bang - literally, making 9/11 look like a party popper as Tokyo is brought to the ground by the Wild Seven terrorist group, led by BR survivor Shuya Nanahara. Here, the premise is set up - war has been declared against adults, but the adults don't want to play. This time, the students are selected to storm their hideout, and waste anyone and everyone there.
Of course, the ante has to be upped to avoid a repeat of the first film. And this is done on two levels. Firstly, the action is explosive, visceral and breathtaking, tearing a page from the storyboards of Saving Private Ryan, and upping the adrenaline to make an insane sequence as the students storm the beach. Secondly, crucially, there is a slight alteration to the collars - every student has an opposite, Boys #3 and Girls #3, for example. And if one of them dies in whatever circumstances, the other collar is set to blow as well. Naturally, these combine to get the bodycount off to a sprint start, with 18 (EIGHTEEN!) students dead in the space of a few short minutes. But this is where the main problem of BR2 lies - you don't care about the dead students (you don't even know their names until the post mortem roll call), so your reaction isn't shock, it's to look at the screen and go "Cool!"
Compared with the first film, this is a serious lack. In the first, you actually cared about the students and what happened to them, as they were fleshed out and had their own back stories - be it Shuya, Kawada, Mimura, Nobu, Chigusa or fan-favourite Kiriyama. Here, the only character that resonates is Kitano's daughter, which says how ineffective a male lead Takuma is. It also highlights the other major loss from the first film - Takeshi Kitano is only in one scene of the film, rather than casually stealing it as he did first time. Takashi Miike regular Riki Takeuchi tries to fill the void, and brings some menace to his character, but was on to a losing battle from the start, while Sonny Chiba's role as Mimura's uncle is too short to mean much. If the characters were just shooting each other for a couple of hours, this might not be as notable, but long stretches of the film are just the characters reflecting and contemplating - but it just doesn't wash, for the basic reason they aren't characters, merely archetypes.
Yes, the film redeems itself towards the end with an intense, drawn out battle between Wild Seven and Special Forces, as well as a hilarious sequence with the Japanese PM arguing with Takeuchi and some non-too flattering allusions to the US, but it doesn't work in the way it clearly should. And the rugby allegory is plain criminal.
As a testament to Kinji Fukasaku's career (he died during filming, and son Kenta took over), it doesn't seem to be a fitting send off. It may fail to miserably fail to live up to the first film, and does not favour considerably, but it does stand up on some of its points and sequences. However, it is not as bad as the hardcore BR fans and critics alike make it out to be. Worth satisfying your curiosity with, if nothing more.