Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Kenta Fukasaku, Koushun Takam
Producer: Akio Kamatani, Tetsu Kayama, Masumi
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Takeshi Kitano, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, Yuko Miyamura
Running Time: 114 min.
By JJ Hatfield
“Battle Royale” is very interesting – interesting beyond the usual curiosity and opinions about books and films. What is most interesting is that those who have not read the book nor viewed the movies are the same ones who say this is an evil movie about killing children. They don’t have a clue.
The film “Battle Royale” is based on the novel of the same title written by Takami Koshun. If you plan to read the book I definitely recommend reading before watching the film(s). It is extraordinarily difficult to translate words, no matter how well structured or described, into the realm of film. Koshun’s novel is close to masterpiece and in it’s own way so is the film. However the book is so much more deeply provocative, intensely touching and terrifying it enhances the viewers experience.
Reading Koshun’s novel is not necessary prior to watching “Battle Royale”. The viewer will not be confused by characters or lost in the plot at any time. And there are a lot of characters, most are school mates. The director, Kinji Fukasaku manages to somehow keep this all balanced in making this excellent film! The mere idea of young teens intentionally being forced into an environment that is lethal is frightening on the surface. The reality is far more terrifying. It isn’t the bad kid shit they do, directly anyway, that brings them to the “Ultimate Solution” – it is how the officials decide to deal with the problem that is shocking. Some have compared this to “A Clockwork Orange” but I found more of a “Lord Of The Flies” tone.
Those darn kids – what are we going to do with them? Well for forty – two (42) of them they get to visit a lovely isolated island sponsored by government legislation. And they gain celebrity status because this is a new reality TV show. Wow, what would excite a kid more! But there are some very different objectives involved including staying alive, and staying sane.
It isn’t the actual violence that’s the focus, as the novel portrayed so well. It’s the psychological changes that occur that engages the viewer. The rules are simple: the students will remain on the island for a weekend with only a little food and water as well as a crude weapon. Oh, and they have to kill or be killed or everyone will die. Several students try to get by on behaviors that always worked for them before. But when your very life is hanging in the balance values and ethics can be amazingly variable.
Okay these kids are punk ass holes and it would probably be a startling improvement to the genetic group as an entirety if their genes were eradicated. They will never probably never do anything remotely positive in their rebellious criminal lives. Some reviews state this movie is a thinly veiled expose’ symbolic of the period between education and training to the job and career mode of millions of Japanese. While that may encompass the most obvious layer of this complex film there are other disturbing and unsettling issues that deserve some serious thought. Are children in need of government instigated behavior checks? Do most adults ignore real needs of teens and only notice when something is wrong? How much damage is done from the stress of stringent expectations? Most cultures claim children are our most precious resource. If that is true we better start acting like it.
(The Theatrical Version is approximately seven (7) minutes shorter than the Extended Cut.) There is a bit of dialog cut and a few less violent scenes but it really does not change the story line at all.)
JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 9/10
A film which would probably cause street riots in ultra-P.C. America, Battle Royale is the story of a group of 9th graders herded onto an evacuated island and forced to kill each other off. Survivors? As Christopher Lambert said in Highlander, “Dere can be only one.” More than one surviving kid at the end of three days spells doom for them all, since everyone is fitted with an electronic collar which can be detonated by the adults running the game. Furthermore, the battlefield grows smaller all the time, since “danger zones”…sections of the island where collars will immediately go off…are established at regular intervals.
There’s a rather perverse sense of humor at work here, perhaps best exemplified by the soothing, well-known pieces of classical music that comprise much of the soundtrack and the cheerful cutie-pie young woman who explains the rules of the game to the bewildered students on an instructional video shown to them by their 7th grade teacher Kitano (Beat Takeshi), who takes grim satisfaction in watching the body count go up since so many of these brats gave him all sorts of shit when he was stuck with them. Payback’s a bitch, ain’t it, you little turds?
I’d be surprised if a lot of people didn’t fantasize about being part of such a thing when THEY were in high school while watching this movie; wondering who would fare how well, who would win, who would commit suicide rather than participate (feh!), and so forth. Me? Well, on a level playing field, I would have won on sheer hatred alone since the vast majority of my 9th grade classmates were no less despicable than Hitler himself. Ah, but I said a LEVEL playing field. In Battle Royale, each kid is given a survival kit which includes a RANDOM weapon, some of which really aren’t weapons at all…and with my bastard luck, I would have gotten a box of Q-Tips while everyone else got a fucking rocket launcher. “Hey you, hold still while I stick this into your ear and jab your brain. If it doesn’t kill you, or at least cut your I.Q. in half, don’t fake it. I’ll know.”
As intriguing as the premise is, the thing that keeps Battle Royale from being a truly great movie is that some of the kids absolutely refuse to accept the reality of their situation even after seeing classmates get stabbed, shot, decapitated, and so forth (yes folks, it DOES show this stuff). There are too many goody-two-shoes characters to really make us believe that the purpose of the game, as Kitano says, is to eliminate the “bad eggs” who are helping the country along on its merry way to Hell. It’s kind of like one of those painful teen slasher movies sometimes; “NO! DON’T GIVE HER THE STUN GUN, YOU STUPID BITCH!! SHE’S GONNA…THERE! YOU SEE? GAH! I WARNED YOU!!!”
Also, there are too many instances where a dying character makes one last speech before closing their eyes and going to that big detention room in the sky. These tend to get longer and more ridiculous as the movie progresses. Almost NOBODY just falls over and dies like logic dictates they should; there’s always some last bit of dialogue that they just HAVE to spit out before they bite it (or at least there’s a prolonged look of horror on their faces). It won’t take you long to stop giving a crap what these people have to say. It’s also worth noting that Chigusa inexplicably puts on a yellow sweatsuit and goes for a jog without a care in the world right in the middle of the game (her “you scarred my face” scene is pretty cool, though; she’s one of the better actresses) and the transfer student with the messy hair, who is playing just for fun, has a seemingly limitless amount of ammunition for his machine gun. And, there are too many secret crushes. Perhaps this is because a lot of the gals were chosen not for their acting ability but for (surprise) their appearances. I kinda doubt that the average Japanese 9th grade class has as much concentrated cuteness as there is here. The girls in MY 9th grade class were mostly prematurely aged hags with track marks up and down their limbs, lungs as black as the Devil’s asshole, and leftover fat from aborted pregnancies. No wonder the mere thought of sex made me wince in disgust for so long. I will not deny a certain satisfaction in watching several of these girls perforate each other in a John Woo-style shootout (which, all kidding aside, is part of one of the film’s best moments).
Needless to say, not all 42 students get an equal share of the spotlight. From the very beginning, it is quite obvious that the winner will be one of a fairly small pool of characters. Thus, although Battle Royale is shocking in the sense that it shows stuff that an American movie could never get away with, it has very few surprises. There are some rousing moments, however, especially when a trio of boys hiding out in a shed manages to send a great big “fuck you” to Kitano and the other adults, safe and snug (or so they think) in their base of operations.
Anyway…good movie. Didn’t much like the way it ended, but I’m sure they could have come up with something worse. I recommend Battle Royale to all suburban yuppie mommies with political activist bumper stickers on their SUVs. I imagine a few of them would die of shock. There’s another way to fight overpopulation. No special collars required!
Numskull’s Rating: 7/10