Review by Sean Boelman
The standalone Kakegurui live-action film, based on the manga, anime, and live-action TV show of the same name, was one of the highlights of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, and for the 2021 edition, fans can check out the sequel. Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette may not be as strong as a whole as its predecessor, but a thrilling final act makes it worth watching.
Set after the events of the first movie, the film follows hero Yumeko Jabami as she must resort to extreme methods and unexpected alliances to protect Hyakkaoh Academy from a hostile takeover. The tournament of the first movie might have made for a more exciting watch as a whole, but the higher stakes of this film, especially in the second half, result in some solid edge-of-your-seat tension.
For the most part, the story is building to the two main action sequences. These two scenes (one of which takes up nearly the entire second hour of the movie) are absolutely exhilarating, even if they lack the creativity of some of the games from the first film. The result is a movie that feels action-packed even though there isn’t as much action as one would expect.
The themes of this film are also very overt. It isn’t like the first movie was ever very subtle with its discussion of social stratification, but it’s even more on-the-nose in this case. However, this time around, the focus is more on the action, so it’s not that distracting to be pounded over the head with messages about class and wealth.
When it comes to the pre-existing characters in the film, the characterization is entirely dependent on the viewer having connected with the first movie. And since there are so many players in that one, all but the most dedicated fans may have forgotten some of the nuances of the dynamic.
On the other hand, the new antagonist that is introduced for this film is absolutely wonderful. Ryusei Fujii gives a performance that is wonderfully exaggerated, making the conflict all the more fun to watch. And his chemistry with the returning cast is excellent, allowing him to blend right in.
Since this movie is a little simpler with the games that are being played, it doesn’t require the same level of creative and fast-paced editing. However, director Tsutomu Hanabusa still does a great job of making the viewer feel immersed in this unique high school environment through the cinematography and production design.
Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette is a slight step down from the unexpected success of the first film, but it still offers a fun two hours. Fans will definitely be excited to see this story continue.
Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette screened at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 5-25.