Battle Royale (2000)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara)
Noriko (Aki Maeda)
Kitano (Takeshi Kitano)
Kawada (Taro Yamamoto)
With the unemployment rate and youth delinquency count rising in Japan, the government passes a new law called the “BR-Act” where each year a class of 9th graders (14- to 15-year olds) are chosen at random, dropped on a remote island, given various weapons and ordered to kill each other off. The last boy/girl standing gets to go home. Don’t forget your lunchbox!
"Today's lesson is: you kill each other off till there's only one left. Nothing's against the rules"--- Kitano
Ouch, that hurt; talk about harsh! "Battle Royale" lives up to its rep and whooped my ass like an unwanted step child. This bitter pill sucked me in early on with its intrigue and proceeded to ruin me repeatedly with its main deadly sucker punch: these are kids killing themselves. And I don’t mean 20-something actors pretending to be 15...I’m talking real 15 year olds slaughtering each other relentlessly. To make things more brutal; the film doesn’t discriminate for a second; girl and boys get maimed equally. But the odd thing is: Fukasaku managed to make all of this politically incorrect exploitation jive extremely entertaining as well.
Seeing young teenage Asian girls in plaid skirts getting bloodily mowed down by a machine gun is not usually my idea of fun times at the Circus. But for some odd reason (that only my shrink can figure out), I still couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. It sure helped that the action scenes were masterfully handled, and that the suspense/tension was laid on thick. All of that engaged me 100% percent into the proceedings while at the same time, making me feel a tad ashamed for getting so many sick kicks out of them. Shite…wait till you see the key schoolgirl shootout! Holy crap! Was it unsettling? Yes. But it was also a well executed action scene that had me on the edge of my seat! That set piece was actually the highlight of the film for me.
On a character level, the film does what it can with its 40+ characters. I didn’t find the dialogue too insightful. It’s very limited and the subtitles on my copy of the film were hard to read. The mass of players were also fairly stereotypical but in this instance, it actually worked in the film’s favor. Since its obviously impossible for this movie to develop everybody at length; giving them a “type” gave me enough juice to care when they bit the bullet. Shuya (Fujiwara) and Noriko (Maeda) are the film’s main character anchors having the most screen time on their side. The fact that they stuck together and tried to avoid fighting also made them more endearing.
The flick also tossed a couple of priceless psycho “villains” in there that rocked my palace. Like that crazy mofo exchange student with the Uzi; fuck me man...that dude didn’t give a flying fuck! I can’t count how many schoolgirls this guy went rat-tat-tat on! I also grooved on the cold, devious heartless bitch character that had ZERO qualms when it came to killing her classmates. Her psycho ways actually turned me on! Go figure! And then there was Kitano (Kitano) the school teacher; I still haven’t got this dude totally figured out, but he had me by the jewels every time he popped onscreen. Now that’s presence!
The small emotional human touches also helped make the insanity more gripping. Seeing everybody’s different reactions to the circumstance was quite gripping and although a tad overused, I still appreciated how some victims’ revealed their hidden feelings to their murderers before buying the farm. I also dug the flashbacks to better, more “normal” times, showing some of the students in a standard environment...clashing drastically on a visual and emotional level with their present state. NICE! I actually would’ve liked more moments like that.
The film does inject some dark humor in its twisted game as well. The instruction video which the class watches before entering the war zone for example, has some chipper cheerleader-like gal explaining in a very enthusiastic fashion the rules of battle. Talk about a demented and out-of-line reel! We also get some situational humor throughout (the various useless weapons) and a morbid score-card that keeps us up to date on the body count. To be honest, I didn’t laugh much. The violence being tossed my way drowned out any chuckles I could’ve spat out. Sorry, but when I see little girls getting butchered...me no be smiling. I still admire the cleverness of those “humorous” aspects though.
On a negative note, I did feel that the film ran a little too long and that the ending was a little too “tongue in cheek” for my liking. I mean, after everything I just witnessed, the last thing I wanted was humor! But the film’s biggest flaw is its message and the reasons behind the madness not being entirely clear. What was this movie trying to say again? How does the state of this society justify a horrible game like this? Was this all a metaphor for the leap to the ugliness that is adulthood? Was it about the loss of innocence? The treacherous nature we can take if put in the right/wrong environment? Any deep meaning in the movie didn’t resonate with me and was easily drowned out by the machine gun noises and the blood splashes.
But in the end, "Battle Royale" wound up being a very memorable watch. It doesn’t pull any punches, is very well directed, sports some gnarly ideas (loved the explosive collars), offers a couple of nice plot twists and will most likely stay with me for a while. This is a gutsy movie! Let’s hit that island, class! We got some killing to do!
Did somebody say ketchup? We get a knife in the head, arrow in the throat, exploding neck, slit throat, axe in the head, crotch stabbing, a severed head, a gory schoolgirl shootout, a blown up head and more! Ouch!
Tatsuya Fujiwara (Shuya) and Aki Maeda (Noriko) make a good pair and handle their parts well. Takeshi Kitano (Kitano) is captivating as the jaded school teacher. Taro Yamamoto (Yamada) hits all of his various levels like a champ.
T & A
None in the cut of the film that I saw and I didn’t want any either.
Fukasaku’s direction is mature, restrained and are never stylized to the point of detaching us from the events going down in the film. The cinematography and the editing are also astounding! Top notch!
We get a powerful score, well used classical music and pop rock tunes.
Let’s think about it for a moment. If this film had adults in the same scenario, it wouldn’t have had the same impact ("The Running Man" comes to mind). But since we’re dealing with kids, in all their innocence and inexperience, it made everything go down so much rougher. Now I’m sure the flick has something to say, but I just didn’t hear it. So for me, "Battle Royale" wound up being exploitation at its finest. I never EVER dreamed that I’d have a blast watching kids murder themselves, but this flick made it happen with its ballsy premise, tight direction, enthralling action sequences, gorgeous cinematography, potent gore and its overall huge set of kanakas between its legs. Next time I see a class of school girls in plaid skirts…I’LL RUN FOR MY FUCKING LIFE!
The film is based on Koshun Takami’s popular novel: Battle Royale.
I’ve heard that the book is clearer with its message, which is a social commentary on the competitive nature of the Japanese educational system. I didn’t get that from the movie at all! Then again, I don’t go to Japanese school and don’t know dick on how it is over there.