Battle Royale(Batoru Rowaiaru)

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"This one is SUPER lucky "

Oct 23rd, 2009

This is not horror in the traditional sense – this is a deeply dark tale centered on a truly horrific premise. The violence here is unparalleled and the body count is high but to top everything off, this is about school children.

Being a foreign language film its release in the UK was to limited cinema chains. I desperately wanted to see this but never got the chance, patiently waiting for a DVD release. These were the days before Tartan went bankrupt, every release was golden and introduced me to more savage tales that Hollywood was lacking during the early part of this decade. As I sat watching the DVD I had one of my greatest experiences from watching a film, I was completely engrossed (Memento had a similar effect).

Based on the book of the same name the film is set in a future which is not too far from our own. Due to overpopulation and an undisciplined youth culture, the Japanese government pass the Battle Royale act. Following the new act each year a class is selected (normally one of the most degenerate – lets hope Ofsted don't get any ideas), drugged and transported to an unknown location where they must proceed to kill each other off until only one survivor remains.

This is one of those films which makes you think what would I do in the same situation? I'm much older than the students here but never once did I associate myself with the adults. What amazed me was the simplicity of the story, it felt so realistic.

Steven King took a stab at similar material with 'The Running Man' (not the film, that was terrible) and it is akin to increasingly morose reality television shows. Battle Royale, while not a televised event did serve as a media circus, as shown in the opening sequence. Fascinatingly since this flick, reality TV has been steadily edging closer to this extreme fictional world and with the internet becoming a portal where anyone can watch real life violence we're on the verge here people.

After a short introduction to a few of the students from the chosen class we are briefed upon the full rules of the game. With an insanely chirpy introduction video the kids find they are fitted with collars which will explode it tampered with or if they enter any of the danger zones. A limit of 3 days is given, if there is no clear winner then all the collars will explode.

Only a few of the characters are truly fleshed out, Shuya – the main character portrayed as a timid soul (we discover through brief flashback scenes that his mother committed suicide and his father abandoned him). What I find most interesting here is unlike his more psychotic classmates he does not wish to participate in 'the program' even when it appears he has less to lose. Noriko – who stands beside him along the ordeal becomes an obsession for one of their teachers. She appears to have the same sweetness about her as Shuya, you want them to survive but how can both live with these rigid set of rules?

There are two exchange students thrown into the mix who appear to have signed up just for fun. This actually allows the film to have a more tangible villain and keeps things moving along at a frantic pace.

My favorite character is Mitsuko, a truly deranged individual who seems to be in her element here, not much of her past is given away (unless you watch the special directors cut) and she adds the unexpected to what could have been routine meet and kill scenarios (like The Condemned which is a blatant rip off of this).

The rest of the class of 40 (that's right, Japan's slightly more overcrowded than here) you would imagine were needless cannon fodder and yet that's not the case. All the class are given enough personality to find them believable, we've all been to school and we know the types of different personalities on display here, no more is needed. If you do want more back-story on the students you should go read the Manga adaptation, every character gets a full history and the art is stunning.

Takeshi Kitano adds class here playing teacher Kitano. I have no idea why the government would hire an ex teacher (stabbed by one of the students at school) to run the proceedings here, it seems a bit too mean, the situation they are thrust into is already dire. Starting things off by killing one of the students he takes a perverse joy in each and every one of the kid's deaths. This could have been an open and closed book on a man wanting revenge but over the course of the film we see a depressed broken shell of a man as we hear snippets of his home life and his desperation to help one of the students win the "game".

Using classical music we get a more dramatic turn of events. The look of the film is not the most polished but the music helps to make things seem grander. There is a difference between the director's cut and the theatrical release (both are available on DVD). Aside from a few additional scenes that aren't really needed, the directors cut uses a lot more CGI, increasing the blood and gore significantly. The only problem here is the CGI is not the most advanced and the blood is noticeably artificial.

The violence in this film is brutal and the body count as high as you would expect. Each of the children is issued different weapons and make use of them they do. From scythes to guns everything stays unique and no kill or suicide (yep that happens) seems the same.

This is a great story and left me with too many questions. The film focuses on the personal nature of the game and the carnage involved but I wanted to see other aspects once the film was over. How did the government come to pass such an act? How does society react to this? How did the parents cope with finding their children in such a dangerous situation? The film was never meant to answer these questions but the ideas they create far surpass the narrative of this film. Maybe one day we'll get a sequel that explores these ideas (Battle Royale: Requiem did not satisfy the way I wanted) but this film is great and is required viewing. 9.5/10

Best Kill
I can't choose there's so many

One of the top-10 highest-grossing films in Japan
None of the cast had any stunt doubles
Kiriyama, the film's main villain, does not utter one word throughout the entire film

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kenta Fukasaku
Released: 2000
Rating: 18
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Masanobu Ando

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