"An uncompromising film that stays with you long after the credits roll."
Japanese films are often notoriously violent and Battle Royale is no exception to that rule. It has been adapted from a book of the same title by Koshun Takami. The basic premise to this film is that a group of teenagers are transported to a remote island and forced to enter a game where the main rule is to kill or be killed. I have seen equally violent films in my time but the thing that makes Battle Royale more shocking and controversial than others is the age of the killers – there is something quite disturbing watching a group of high school kids take each other out with a variety of weapons.Battle Royale is a government initiated program designed to control the wayward youth of Japan. The students are given a bag at the beginning of the game which contains a map, compass, food and a random weapon – if you’re lucky you get an Uzi and if you’re unlucky you may score a saucepan lid. Each participant wears an explosive collar which can be manually activated at any time and will automatically go off if tampered with. There can only be one survivor, if there is more than one participant remaining after three days then the explosive collars will be set off killing all remaining players. It does not take long before these desperate teenagers realise the seriousness of their situation and a bloodbath begins. There are those killing out of fear, revenge, pleasure and those who refuse to play either by avoidance or suicide.
The intense violence aside there are strong messages within this film that translates well to a western audience. We are presented with kids facing common issues for their age which can be an extremely difficult period in life. The characters here are like any other high school kids. This makes it easy to relate to them and forces you to think about what path you would take if you were faced with their same predicament. There are also themes exploring the media’s obsession with violence and it also looks at society’s fascination with reality TV. There is a comically cheerful presentation video that the students watch in order to learn the rules of the game, there’s a tally on the screen each time someone is killed and there are loudspeaker announcements naming the latest victims each morning.
Whilst the blood is flowing during Battle Royale there is an underlying love story developing between two of the main characters Shuya and Noriko. They have an eager determination to survive together and escape the island. During the game they meet up with Kawada who is a previous survivor with a tale of how he shot his girlfriend in order to complete the game. So what will they do if they are the last two survivors?
Battle Royale is beautifully shot and well acted which is unusual for such an extreme movie. Veteran Japanese actor ‘Beat’ Takeshi plays the disgruntled ex-teacher in control of the game – he plays a usually cold hearted and violent role that he has perfected over the years. All the teenage actors involved do exceptionally well playing the frantically distressed kids playing a mandatory and wicked game. The violence is incredibly graphic and realistic which adds to the film’s effectiveness.
This is the last film that director Kinja Fukasaku completed before his death earlier this year and to say he went out with a bang is an understatement. It is an uncompromising film that stays with you long after the credits roll.Even though Battle Royale will remain a fairly underground film, it already has deserved cult status and will be a reference point for years to come.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Actionfest 2011 For more in the Actionfest 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2013 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.