Battle Royale (2000)

Triggered by the collapse of Japanese society at the turn of the millennium, a government sanctioned initiative was established as a form of deterrence for youth crime, which the authorities believed to be the root of the country’s problems. Passed as the BR Act, the bill requires that each year a randomly chosen class of 42 teenagers is detained and, for a period of three days, forced to fight to the death until only one, a sole winner, remains. When their class is picked, Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) and Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) band together as their friends and classmates – along with two enigmatic strangers, introduced as exchange students – engage in bloody battle. With a trio of computer hackers out to undermine the government from the adjacent side of the island arena, however, there may be a way that both of them could make it out alive.

There is obviously an ulterior motive for revisiting (and hence reviewing) Battle Royale at this particular juncture; with just one week to go until Gary Ross’ big screen adaptation of author Suzanne Collins’ esteemed The Hunger Games reaches cinemas, I thought it best to have this tale of enforced teenage violence fresh in mind ahead of any comparisons that might have to be drawn with the latter. Both films are based on novels, both films are set in a dystopian alternate future, and both films use a Gladiatorial-style arena to subjugate and terrorise a small group of teenagers as some sort of punishment for past crimes. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, it’s 2000 and The Hunger Games has not even been written yet; but, before you take this as reason enough to dismiss The Hunger Games as merely Battle Royale-light, let’s not forget that William Golding’s Lord of the Flies most definitely had.

As controversial as it was, having been banned in a number of countries and blamed in yet more for clearly unconnected teenage criminality, it is not the film’s violence that has earnt it such praise from critics and audiences alike. Despite being populated with the usual classroom stereotypes and inexplicably sinister adults, the film subverts a number of conventions as innocence and insecurity give way to killer instinct and a battle-hardened lack of conscious. This discord is best evidenced in a training video used to induct the teenagers into the rules of Battle Royale, featuring as it does a bright and cheerful presenter prancing unabashedly around the screen with murder on her lips and a dance in her step.

Moreover, Battle Royale is beautifully shot, the eruptions of blood and viscera caught somewhere between schlock and art. Far more impressive than the practical effects (and they are damned impressive) are the quieter moments which lace the narrative, often deftly interspersed with flashbacks which help to flesh out individual characters – often moments before their gory demise. Although the sense of reality is most definitely heightened (Kitano’s justification for slaughtering two of his students is that they were unruly in class), director Fukasaku Kinji nevertheless maintains a strange melancholy and insidious sense of exploitation which grounds the action, and in-so-doing prevents the gorier moments from achieving some problematic level of glorification. The deaths are as haunting as they are splattertastically hardcore.

Gruesome, gripping and considered one of Japanese cinema’s greatest achievements, Battle Royale is a controversial classic that broke the country’s box office while simultaneously making a stand against certain elements of its own culture. As satirical as it is sickening, it is an important movie that should never be remade or replaced. As for homaged, however; well, we’ll get to that shortly.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

2 Responses to Battle Royale (2000)

  1. Pingback: The Hunger Games (2012) « popcornaddict

  2. Pingback: March 2012 – Fire all things that go bang! « popcornaddict

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