Hugely controversial but brilliantly compelling action thriller.
Lord Of The Flies with bullets and a very intentional body count, Battle Royale is black humour at its riveting best.
Battle Royale is the sort of film you are unlikely to see Hollywood
ever make, although rumours and failed attempts abound. Not only is it
utterly violent and politically harrowing it does it all while having a
class full of school kids butchering each other with all manner of
weaponry. It is the sort of film that Asian Cinema has become famous for, it pulls no punches and rams its point home to ruthless effect. Crucially though Battle Royale takes a look at individuals in their formative years and places them in a no win situation.
In the near future Japan is over-run with reckless youths. In an
attempt to stem the tide they introduce the Battle Royale Act. The law
sees a random high-school class selected to take part in a game to the
death. Each student is given a weapon and wears a collar. If they try to
escape the game the collar will blow their throat open. The only way to
survive is to be the last person standing after three days. This year
finds Nanahara’s (Fujiwara) class subjected to the game with their old
teacher Kitano (Kitano) overseeing from his control centre.
For those looking for a subtle commentary on the youth of today in
relation to violence Battle Royale will be too much. It pulls no punches
and leaves very little to interpretation. As with many Japanese films
it is over written and often over emphasises the points and themes it is
trying to highlight. The burgeoning love between Nanahara and Noriko
(Maeda) is one example of how the film announces its intent with a
Where this tactic works though is in dealing with the playground politics of the memory of school. There
are the jocks, the sluts, the prudes the geeks and in Battle Royale,
although painted broadly, they all play a vital role in the progression,
and understanding, of the world. Furthermore the use of teenagers,
rather than adults, allows for a dark insight into the future generation
and how they will come to view the world. The film deliberately
instils a morbid sense of humour and ironies that continue to ring a wry
smile from the audience, and Kitano, throughout. The message being
that while the young have the ability for change, the adults are the
ones that are dangerous in their refusal to adapt.
The Battle Royale Act is designed to, in some way, control the
hostile youths in a modern society but the irony arises when they use
force to inflict violence upon each other. Of course some of the
characters try to take the battle to the adults but are constantly
undermined by their peers who are happy to riddle their bodies with
bullets in the desperate hope of being the last kid standing.
Director Fukasaku revels in bringing an operatic style to the
film. The man behind Tora Tora Tora (1970) and Virus (1980) certainly
enjoys looking at the disintegration of society and how extreme measures
will always place a microscope over the best and worst of humanity.
His execution is deliberately over the top with blood spectacularly
spraying across the screen, all the more vividly in this Blu-Ray
release, and the use of calm classical music to juxtapose the chaos on
screen. As a result you are never anything other than seduced into the
lavish world he creates.
Many of the cast are never given the chance to make a mark on the
film, normally dispatched within only a few minutes of screen time.
Fujiwara has gone onto play all manner of disturbed youngsters,
especially in the Death Note films, but here is adamant to survive the
ordeal without killing. As a result his character Nanahara is always
bordering on wet but his gradual genesis makes him the closest thing the
film has to a hero. To this extent he handles the role well and, thanks
to flashbacks, we come to fully appreciate his determination and value
for life. However, it is Takeshi Kitano who steals much of the limelight from under the noses of the younger cast.
Always a hugely magnetic screen presence the actor who brought such
films as Zatoichi (2003) and Brother (2000) to life presents the dark
comedy centre to the film. Indeed as the film unfolds we rapidly learn
that he is a compassionate, yet deeply flawed character, making him all
the more appealing.
Taken too seriously it will offend but read, as the book and later
Manga comic, are intended, Battle Royale is a darkly comedic treat. The
over statement of certain aspects are forgivable for the endless fun and
harrowing violence, while the asides and winks that the script presents
are a delight. Winning the war on conventional plots Battle Royale is a true victor.