Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale (2000)

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"Today we're going to learn about slitting throats. Or something equally violent."
“Today we’re going to learn about slitting throats. Or something equally violent.”

Twitter Plot Summary: A group of school kids are forced to fight to the death on a remote island.

Genre: Adventure/Sci-Fi/Thriller

Director: Kinju Fukasaku

Key Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sosuke Takaoka, Takashi Tsukamoto, Aki Inoue.

Five Point Summary:

1. Let’s just set the stall out nice and early shall we…
2. Collars with bombs in them. Like badly treated pets.
3. That orientation video is far too cheerful…
4. Violence! Explosions! Death! Oh my!
5. …is he dead? What about now? Now? How about now?!

It’s taken me a few years to watch Battle Royale, and I’m glad I finally got round to it, even if my opinion of it has now been tainted somewhat by The Hunger Games. After a mass walkout of students leads to the introduction of the BR Act in Japan, a class of students are gassed, knocked out  and taken to a remote island where they are advised, in a cheerful orientation video, that they must spend the next three days trying to kill each other – the last student alive will be declared the winner. Explosive collars are placed on each of them, preventing escape and adding another element of danger to proceedings – if they decide not to partake in the fight or accidentally enter one of the danger zones on the island, the collar will explode.

What’s interesting as a viewer, other than the violence of course, is how each of the students chooses to survive – some form alliances, others go it alone. Some attempt to subvert the requirement to kill other students whilst others start gunning their fellow students down with reckless abandon. From a scripting perspective it helps to differentiate the various students from each other via their different methods of surviving, but ultimately ends up with some very one dimensional characters. That’s fine though because we’re here to see people fight and kill each other – it’s not a deep character study and the bare minimum of personality for each of our protagonists, central character or otherwise, is all that is needed.

For a second, they all thought they could see Godzilla. Turns out it was just a tree.
For a second, they all thought they could see Godzilla. Turns out it was just a tree.

It does look rather cheap and shot on low quality film stock, but then this is counterbalanced by the violence and the story, youth being subjugated by their elders and rebelling against the established order, albeit to more extreme lengths than would normally be expected. Ironically, whilst rebelling against the establishment they’re all wearing identical school uniforms, go figure. As I find typical of Japanese cinema it’s violent and shocking seemingly just because it can be. I’m sure that this preoccupation with extreme cinematic violence is an ongoing reaction to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WW2, much like the Godzilla films in that respect. It’s a theme that has permeated Japanese cinema for decades and I can’t see it abating any time soon.

In hindsight as well, despite Suzanne Collins previously stating that she’d never heard of Battle Royale (either the film or the original novel) before writing The Hunger Games, it’s clear that the two are inextricably linked. I’ll discuss that film when I get round to reviewing it, but the parallels between the two are very clear.

Whilst Battle Royale is excellent, I’m more interested in seeing the politics behind the decision to hold such an event. Having nearly a million school kids walk out in protest is one thing, but is forcing a bunch of them to fight to the death on a remote island a proportionate response? Well, in Japan perhaps it is, but as an extreme social commentary there are few films that can beat it.

Favourite scene: The introduction to the hunger ga… sorry, the Battle Royale. A couple of kids are bumped off before it even gets started!

Quote: “So today’s lesson is, you kill each other off till there’s only one left. Nothing’s against the rules.”

Silly Moment: Without dipping into spoilers, the final scene. Echoes of Austin Powers’ line “Why won’t you die?!”

Score: 4/5

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