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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 18.93%
Average: 1.46%
Pretty Bad: 0.97%
Total Crap: 2.91%

6 reviews, 170 user ratings

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Battle Royale
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by Brian McKay

"Kill, Die, or Run – There is no fourth option."
4 stars

BATTLE ROYALE, the Japanese cult film about high school students forced to fight to the death on an island, is a film that’s difficult to judge. Is it trying to be campy and exploitative with its frequent bouts of exaggerated ultra-violence? Or is it a biting satire and social criticism of an era plagued by disenfranchised and increasingly violent-prone youth? How about a little of both? On second thought, make that a lot.

Battle Royale is the kind of film that immediately thrusts you into an absurdly violent world on the thinnest and murkiest of pretexts. However, once you get caught up in that world, it’s almost impossible to look away from it. The Lord of the Flies motif’ is readily apparent, and comparison to a similar, recent American film Series 7: The Contenders is nearly unavoidable. While that film was a satire of reality television and all the worst that it brings out in people (Contestants are chosen against their will in a random “lotto”, then forced to hunt each other down on camera), Battle Royale takes a somewhat different approach. The film takes place in either the near-future or an alternate present-day Japan, and quickly informs us that the nation’s economy has collapsed, millions are out of work, and most disconcerting of all, the youth are getting increasingly out of hand. Hundreds of thousands of students are boycotting school, protesting, or rioting. Fearful of the increasingly belligerent youth, the government institutes the “Battle Royale” edict. Every year, a class of high school kids is chosen at random and forced to participate in a last-man-standing duel to the death. What the government hopes to accomplish with this is never exactly clear, except perhaps to “make an example” out of them for other potential troublemaking youth. Like I said, it’s a razor-thin pretext (wouldn’t something like this just piss disenfranchised student activists off even more?), but once you get sucked into the life or death world of Battle Royale, it’s hard to not take it seriously.

The class chosen this time belongs to Mr. Kitano (The ubiquitous and always enjoyable Japanese film thug, Beat Takeshi). It consists of 42 students, equally split between boys and girls. Except for one of them, who tries to knife Kitano, they don’t seem like a bunch of troublemakers. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t matter. Kitano is a plant, and is really in charge of the Battle Royale program. A fact that he makes very clear to the class by killing two of them before the game even officially begins.

The rules are simple, as explained on a video tape to the horrified class by a super-cute and painfully exuberant Japanese girl. The contest lasts 3 days. Each “contestant” has been fitted with a tracking collar that will explode if removed, or if they stray into “danger zones” on the island (a nice little nod to the straight-to-video sci-fi classic Deadlock, as well). The collars will also explode at the end of the three days if there is more than one contestant standing. Only the last person alive makes it home. Each contestant is given a bag with food, water, compass, map, and a random “weapon”. The weapon can be anything form an assault rifle to a melee weapon to special tool or device. Obviously, some people are going to get the short end of the stick in the weapons lotto and will have to use their wits to stay alive.

The students all react in different ways. Some immediately go on a killing rampage, either out of fear, or simply because they are innate predators – like the pretty but unstable Mitsuko (Kou Shibasaki), who decides it’s time for a little payback with gusto after being picked on by the other girls at school. Others, like our protagonists Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and his potential love-interest Noriko (Aki Maeda) decide to stick together and avoid killing (or dying) if at all possible. A few decide that the only honorable way out is to simply not play, and choose the manner of their own demise. Many form small groups, either out of friendship, manipulation, or the desire to get back at Kitano and his men somehow. Added into the mix are two recent “transfer students”, who naturally turn out to be the biggest bad-asses of the bunch. But while one is a remorseless thrill kill junkie, the other, Kawada (Taro Yamamoto), is a hardened veteran of a previous game with his own agenda. Luckily for Nanahara and Noriko, he decides to befriend them and try to help them escape, rather than just eliminate whatever competition crosses his path.

The film moves at a dizzying pace, with contestants getting killed off at an alarming rate. Subtitles briefly appear on screen in order to document the names, gender, and number of the most recent kills, while Kitano throws out such comments over the loudspeaker as “Only three kills this morning. I’m disappointed in you. Quit slacking!” Like much of the film itself, the action sequences are absurd, and some characters manage to keep walking, talking, or fighting despite having taken obscene amounts of undigested lead into their systems. While the violence is cartoonish and at times amusing on the one hand, it is also viscerally disturbing on the other. The only thing more disturbing than watching adolescents die, is watching them do it to each other (and unlike an American film, which would probably cast people in their mid-20’s as high-schoolers, these actors really are just kids). The film sets the bar early on, pulling no punches and keeping them coming in a steady flurry. See the nice teenage girl in her school uniform? Isn’t she young and pretty? thwap Not quite so pretty with a knife sticking out of her forehead. What happens to the nice young man who gets his collar set off early as an "example" isn’t very pretty either.

Kitano oversees the proceedings with something almost akin to boredom, as he talks to his own estranged teenage daughter on the phone who tells him “don’t bother coming home”. He adopts a curious fixation with Noriko, who becomes a sort of daughter-by-proxy unbeknownst to her. The body count is high, and the death scenes, even when peppered with adolescent ramblings about friendship or unrequited love, are no less emotionally jarring. But as battle lines are drawn, the emerging dynamics of villainy and heroism are fascinating to behold. Who will be a cold blooded killer, and who will be willing to die defending their friends - or even someone they hardly know? The Battle Royale brings out the worst, and best, in everyone – often simultaneously.

Clearly, the film is not without a few gaping flaws. Besides the ridiculous concept of the “Battle Royale” edict itself, there are often faults of logic in the characters' actions, including those of the very conflicted and stoic Kitano. These are noteworthy matters that detract somewhat from the story's credibility, but won’t distract you much from the gripping and jarring nature of the film itself.

Oddly enough, the film’s most compelling moment comes when the closing credits roll. As the final theme music plays, a mellow Japanese hip-hop track with a haunting acoustic guitar riff, we are shown a black and white school photograph of Kitano and the class. As the credits continue to roll, the camera focuses in on the various faces of the doomed contestants, providing a subtle but powerful reminder that these characters weren’t mere statistics for an entertaining bloodbath, but just normal kids that should have had their entire lives ahead of them. In many ways, it gives the film its crowning, humanistic touch, and the faces of those kids are likely to linger long after the credits stop. Fucking brilliant.

Admittedly, it is difficult to track this down. It is not available on region 1 DVD, was nearly banned in Japan, and has received limited exposure in the U.S. However, it can be located on a VCD format or *ahem* downloaded, and is well worth your efforts to do so. Whether you end up judging the film as exploitative pap, or a powerful indictment of a society that is on a downward spiral of violence, is up to you. However, BATTLE ROYALE is a film that should not be easily ignored, and will not be easily forgotten.

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originally posted: 04/03/03 16:16:17
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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.

User Comments

1/30/14 Ionicera great satire, very suspenseful 5 stars
12/20/12 shooters33 This was the best movie I have seen all year if ever. THG totally ripped this off !! 5 stars
9/13/12 Marty Come on guys. It's a shock value film that's kinda fun. Too inconsistent to have meaning. 2 stars
5/16/10 wlad the best movie ever made. it has it all - action,and a deep underlying meening. This is art 5 stars
12/23/09 Jeff Mind-blowing film! 5 stars
9/08/09 Lewis This actually is the best feature-length film ever. No joke. 5 stars
2/17/09 Lucy My absolute favourite film of all time 5 stars
6/25/08 ES It was way better than I expected 4 stars
5/17/08 ash Deserves a headscratch with its pretext, but events in the "game" itself make us reflect 4 stars
5/07/08 Dimitri I really, really loved this movie, a bit violent but strong. 5 stars
11/22/07 Luke FUCKING AMAZING! 5 stars
7/24/07 AnthonyBenigno Despite the manga being superior, i love the different view the movie puts on the story! 5 stars
2/20/07 KitaShu Amazing movie - a must see for those who love action! Like me! XD 5 stars
2/06/07 CoDeMaStEr its so cool do any 1 no wen nomber 3 is out 5 stars
12/27/06 mE The best movie ever! 5 stars
12/09/06 Porcelain Its actually aesthetic through the gore.Very real display of survival instinct in humans. 5 stars
11/28/06 Bella amazing book, kick ass film, ram the point home - this is hardcore 5 stars
8/10/06 melivorous Masanabu Ando, Chiaki Kiriyama, Beat Takashi!! what more could you ask for! 5 stars
7/13/06 sayori hayatýmda en güzel filmdir. mesala chiaki kuriyama, kou shibasaki ve aki maeda... 4 stars
5/23/06 Agent Sands One of the great gorefests. Takeshi, as always, delivers with a wryly hilarious performance 5 stars
12/03/05 Jennifer S. This was just an excellent movie, start to finish. 5 stars
11/29/05 tr3svirus amazing movie 5 stars
10/16/05 Anus ABIGAIL CAN SUCK MY COCK ANYDAY! 5 stars
8/31/05 Christine Hosie great film!! strange in it's barbarism 5 stars
5/07/05 K. Sear Some weak moments but, all in all, a great movie. 5 stars
4/01/05 Seresh I can't get it out of my head. absolutley mind blowing 5 stars
3/22/05 The Mockingbird why cant we make something like this? one of my all time favs 5 stars
2/10/05 Scapegoats What a great movie...who ever says it sucks should be tared and feathered. 5 stars
1/29/05 Abigail sucks totally.. makes no sense - YUK! 1 stars
1/17/05 Dark Lord Brilliant, Shocking, Funny and Scary all at the same time. 5 stars
1/08/05 Pent I agree with shogo kawada 5 stars
12/08/04 Shogo-Kawada You know this is also a real game in east asia.. 4 stars
12/02/04 Al Guy More pathos than I would have thought. Great movie. 5 stars
11/28/04 Joe One more reason why hollywood sucks 5 stars
11/09/04 Alaric L A film about violence in human nature 4 stars
10/22/04 sofia the most mazing film i have ever seen ( no joke) 5 stars
8/11/04 Lee Extremely nice. I loved this movie!!!! R.I.P.Kinji Fukasaku 5 stars
8/10/04 kyotomatt Decent, but not as good as the book. Takeshi ruined the ending. 3 stars
8/06/04 tohru senno its the best war movie ever 5 stars
8/03/04 SpuD I actually found the film quite humourous :) We have it on DVD here too! Yey ^^ 5 stars
7/25/04 Patrick Puhl If you were appalled, you missed the point 5 stars
7/07/04 dead next door cool flick 5 stars
6/15/04 Tuan Nguyen Excellent story, music, and bloody gore. If you have watced it, you're one lucky bastard. 5 stars
6/03/04 Mr Mayagi Must see movie Daniel-san. 5 stars
6/03/04 VOS Outrageously riveting and compelling. It's a must see! 5 stars
6/03/04 Dave This film remains with you long after you have watched it. A disturbing film. QUITE AMAZING 5 stars
5/18/04 taintedlunch You've never seen anything like it. Find this movie! 5 stars
5/17/04 Geoff hilarious, exciting... just plain awesome 5 stars
4/12/04 Ryan Phallus Brutal, Intense, Immersive, Thought-Provoking, and hard to catagorize. 5 stars
4/01/04 Noriko Awesome 5 stars
3/16/04 Amzad H Visually disturbing, but brilliant!! 5 stars
2/14/04 Jaznng I thought this had an interesting point of view and the different situations showed alot. 4 stars
1/29/04 Meghan Carr An Awesome, thought provoking movie! 5 stars
1/23/04 JC Wow! I expected the movie to be good but not THAT good. Fantastic film. 5 stars
1/15/04 Colleen This movie was brilliant. I'm about done with the book right now, which might be better. =b 5 stars
1/05/04 Ben Good film with an astounding idea behind the carnage. Read the book as well if you can. 5 stars
1/03/04 Mark Simply one of the greatest movie's ever made, a classic 5 stars
12/22/03 jamie one of the best movies out there. 5 stars
12/15/03 delia johnson the movie fell short, but the concept is fucking awesome. 4 stars
11/14/03 Igor Insane violence + good story = kick ass movie. 5 stars
11/04/03 ThuG_uNit Very good Movie 5 stars
10/18/03 Vince This is one fucked up movie. 5 stars
10/15/03 Ying its a GREAAAAAT movie.Everybody who's niet a chickenshit has got to see it!!!!!! 5 stars
10/15/03 alsiha Best movie ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
10/15/03 AVG AZN BOI c'mon ppl, hoo dun lik ta c a movie wit kyute jap skool gurlz killin dere best friendz? 5 stars
10/05/03 john holdsworth one of the best films ever!!! 5 stars
9/23/03 aya wonderful 5 stars
9/06/03 mark excellent movie 5 stars
8/11/03 Richard Fitzmaurice This film is the best i have seen in a very long time! 5 stars
8/04/03 Noriko Yanagida (yes my real name is Noriko) This movie is disturbingly wonderful! A cult classic. ^_^ 5 stars
7/20/03 BookWorm Read the book, screw the film 1 stars
7/12/03 Dreamwalker Fantastic film, great characterization. Shame that it's bound to be badly remade in the U.S 5 stars
7/02/03 jih absolutely fucking amazing the guys who say total crap are retards with not friends. 5 stars
6/24/03 Pete B beautiful film! You see this remade for the American market! 5 stars
6/21/03 Kevin Fuld Awesome Movie! 5 stars
6/21/03 Kay My god.... a fascinating look at a society near you! 5 stars
6/14/03 ARM GHOST Battle Royale is one of those Movies that need to get into the state, 5 stars
6/12/03 Jerry DO'H!! DO'H!! DO'H!! Ah,my last letter. DO'H!!!! 1 stars
6/12/03 WakeAngel MORE MORE MORE 5 stars
6/11/03 jessie it was a mad and sad movie 5 stars
6/11/03 Rob i am a fan of asian films anyway but this was the best 5 stars
6/09/03 Ronald Blam this piece of crap!! 1 stars
6/08/03 Ben Barr I thought it was a great movie. I first heard about it in Pulp magazine. 5 stars
6/06/03 Chris Great fun, has such an energy to it, but also quite harrowing as well 5 stars
6/04/03 MoMusumefan21 Very huanting, you will always remember this movie. Cant wait for BR II in July 2003! 5 stars
6/04/03 AJ good movie. . . it really makes you think 4 stars
5/27/03 Robbie Awful!! I give this movie 0% 1 stars
5/27/03 Temple This is by far one of the best films ever made! 5 stars
5/24/03 Freddie Overall message is deep, but lacking in tact in places. Needs a better ending. 4 stars
5/23/03 Korny Perhaps the best movie ever made. 5 stars
5/23/03 johnathan lamplough this movie is the coolest ive seen in ages and ive seen reloaded! 5 stars
5/22/03 Genshu Makota Still a great piece of Japanese Cinematography. Should definitely be U.S bound! 5 stars
5/20/03 Williefish hilarious! 5 stars
5/19/03 ginger Awsome 5 stars
5/19/03 JEff very unique movie...i loved it 5 stars
5/06/03 Frank This film is amazing. I couldn't believe what I had saw when it was finally over. 5 stars
4/21/03 Adam Rosenberg This movie has made it onto my top 75 i give it 5 stars 5 stars
4/18/03 JAZY J 2003 I KNOW I WAS THERE! 5 stars
4/12/03 William Stewart The Kubrik of Japan, very impressive. 5 stars
4/08/03 Dave Non-stop ultra violence with a wicked sense of humour. Now that's entertainment. 5 stars
4/07/03 Wayne A dark and thrilling fairy tale of modern violence 5 stars
3/31/03 Kyle I'm at a loss for words. Incredible. 5 stars
2/27/03 NOS Watched it pressing the fast forward button of my remote 2 stars
2/14/03 Steve Great 5 stars
2/04/03 Mr Temple It's the dogs bollocks!!! 5 stars
1/11/03 Amanda Norcross Watch out for those transfer students!! 5 stars
1/09/03 Safia One of the best Japanese movies I've seen 5 stars
11/24/02 DRiON MITSUKO KICK'S ASS!!! 5 stars
11/12/02 Fonq35 Simply awesome... you will not see anything like this from Hollywood - treasure it! 5 stars
10/12/02 H3LLSING One of the best Japanese movies I've ever seen next to "Wild Zero". Watch it! Love it! 5 stars
9/29/02 HRaven now..I want the DVD... Worth the bill ! 5 stars
9/27/02 Azhrarn Who's your daddy bitch? 5 stars
9/18/02 DPop Amazing and Thought Provoking 5 stars
9/11/02 Vivek Bansal Shocking, controversial, reminds me of middle school. 5 stars
9/10/02 Reiko twisted beyond words.. I loved it... 5 stars
9/04/02 Patrick Ng One of the best movies I've ever seen! 5 stars
8/16/02 Steve Firstenburg One of the most original and original movies to come out of any country in quite a while. 5 stars
8/08/02 Roy good movie, got me paranoid. 5 stars
8/07/02 Jon Warner A profoundly subversive cult film - horrific, emotionally draining, and funny, too!!?? 5 stars
8/03/02 Andy H it blew my mind, US movies don't take this much sad 5 stars
7/30/02 edward h. Really disturbing film - powerful. 5 stars
7/26/02 Joe Blow aWESOME! 5 stars
7/17/02 Chronobyte Very Entertaining 5 stars
4/15/02 DNA quite enjoyable 5 stars
4/14/02 Krash i personally think that the law should be passed for real 5 stars
3/27/02 Tom Steer Entered my top 3 all time films 20 mins after it started 5 stars
3/20/02 Sakonchai Jiravanichkul How to survive in the real life is the truly question for our teenager. 3 stars
3/19/02 JoB Kick ass movie!!! 5 stars
3/13/02 cARa perty boring 1 stars
3/12/02 Roy O' Bannon I love it!!!!! Best Movie for Years 5 stars
3/10/02 Sugimura-sama It's violent movie!!I love it!! 5 stars
2/18/02 Andrew Carden Interesting Movie...Good Direction and Screenplay. 4 stars
2/17/02 atom The film is a bloody master peice 5 stars
2/15/02 Buddy Disturbing, ultra-violent...beautifully filmed & acted. 5 stars
2/08/02 Hanna So totally overwhealming...I will have to leave a few days before my next viewing... 5 stars
2/02/02 Death Blackdekker frightening, thought-provoking, exciting and well directed 5 stars
1/31/02 Nosty Violent and shocking, unforgettable! 5 stars
1/27/02 Jonny Mindless brutality coupled with thought-provoking drama 5 stars
1/10/02 DIN Shockingly GOOD!No.1 on my list of EXCELLENT movies........EVER :) 5 stars
12/11/01 Kevin Disturbing but great movie. 5 stars
12/06/01 Zed Totally intriguing. 5 stars
12/02/01 AK Horribly grotesque, yet superb story, most disturbing movie I´ve ever seen. 5 stars
11/30/01 Haley A disturbing, inspiring and astounding film. Cant be beaten. 5 stars
11/27/01 sdfr violent shocker or cautionary fable for our generation? works well as both. 4 stars
11/21/01 Claire Thornley This movie blew me away!! Look beyond the press and find one of the best films of the year 5 stars
11/19/01 KELLY MORRIS Not bad kind of Series 7 meets Cherry falls quite wierd 4 stars
11/08/01 Gopal Natarajan Brutal and disturbing, but darkly funny and poignant. 4 stars
10/28/01 jot027 fuckin' outstanding 5 stars
10/23/01 Ed ( Very violent but still a great film. 5 stars
10/21/01 Quentin Stories for the soul...........DISTURBING! 5 stars
10/14/01 Jason Columbine could have been avoided if students had an outlet like this 5 stars
10/10/01 John Kirriemuir Disturbing, compulsive, and confrontational - what would you do? 5 stars
9/29/01 Nyanko-chan Disturbing as all fuck, hell yeah, but just the premise is thoughtprovoking! 5 stars
9/28/01 HyperAkuma what can i say, its a japanese movie. truly an interesting way, awesome movie. 5 stars
9/15/01 ym quite nice 4 stars
9/13/01 Ian Davies Quite simply, the best film of the year. 5 stars
8/29/01 Azek This is by far, one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. You need to see this one! 5 stars
8/22/01 Key I don't care how you do it, but you have to get your hands on this movie! 5 stars
8/20/01 k. I wish BR could be real! (my own death is worth a chance to kill mt classmates!) 5 stars
8/19/01 Rave669 Awesome flick! just got it today! worth every cent! 5 stars
8/16/01 AstroKender all I can say is: Whoa...Intense. 3 stars
8/13/01 talent14 A familiar, but COMPLETELY absorbing film. 4 stars
8/11/01 Vienna Unbelievable Amazing Piece of Work 5 stars
8/08/01 Kevin Collison Amazing effects! Halfway through, I realized the kids weren't actually killing eachother! 5 stars
8/06/01 Really Stunned person. SHOCKINGLY GOOD. Watch it. Then think. 5 stars
8/06/01 T Nguyen A powerful fable. Life is that sad? 5 stars
7/11/01 Boomshanka Top notch stuff, too violent for Americans, great for the rest of us. 5 stars
7/06/01 Kyle Druckenmiller Damn movie had me afraid to sleep 5 stars
6/15/01 Bob Johnson Great Film see it if you can 5 stars
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Directed by
  Kinji Fukasaku

Written by
  Kenta Fukasaku
  Koushun Takami

  Tatsuya Fujiwara
  Aki Maeda
  Taro Yamamoto
  Masanobu Ando

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