"Battle Royale" Review: Killing The Next Generation

Updated on July 2, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

Battle Royale has the dubious honor of having started, a decade later, a western tendency of dystopian films about teenagers killing one another. Works like The Hunger Games and Divergent have central ideas about the hopelessness of a failed rotten system. Add to that the unfair and impossible responsibility imposed on the new generations to make enormous sacrifices in order to bring about positive change.

Of course, all these versions are watered down, inferior pieces in terms of risk-taking, because their creators were more interested in obtaining the PG rating needed for easier box office success.

In 1999, Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku took on the challenge of adapting the Takami Koushun novel. Battle Royale would end up being the most successful and awarded movie of his filmography as well as the most controversial, criticized and banned of them all. It would also be his last.

Decidedly and intentionally controversial, the story revolves around a fictional Japan where the educational system has failed. Massive dropouts and a gigantic increase in juvenile crime is now the norm.

A whole school class is kidnapped, drugged and forced by the government to participate in a bloody game on a deserted island. Professor Kitano (Takeshi Kitano), who had resigned a year earlier from that school after being stabbed by a student, seems to be the one in control of the game.

To ensure “cooperation", all students carry an explosive collar ready to be activated if the rules are broken. And what are those rules? Just simple and direct violence: They have three days to kill each other, and the game goes on until only one combatant survives.

The military provides each with a backpack filled with survival implements and a random weapon that ranges from the lid of a pot (seriously) to knives, axes or a powerful machine gun.

With this straightforward setting, a frenzied, bloody festival is guaranteed. Of the 42 students, Fukasaku focuses on a handful, including the noble Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), the sweet Noriko (Aki Maeda), the enigmatic Shogo Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and the dangerous Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando).

The logic of Battle Royale, of course, makes no sense. Not only is the level of the sadistic authority of teacher Kitano inexplicably huge, but if the intention of the BR Act is a political counter-measure to the fact that 800,000 students have left the schools, how choosing a classroom, one of the few with actual students, annually to force them to kill each other is going to solve that?

The answer should be simple: Everything should be perceived as a fever dream/delusion with an absurd hyper-violence. That would be perfect. But at times, Battle Royale tries too hard to have a depth it doesn't need, with pieces of dialogue placed in vignettes as if they were marking inexistent chapters or dream sequences that look more pretentious than useful.

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But when Battle Royale makes a total commitment to the silly violence, touching the limits of a gory slapstick, it shines with full force. Experimenting with absolute freedom, it's a far superior film when its motif is a simple “ Let's just kill a bunch of school kids, shall we?"

Because that apparent freedom is deeply rooted in the collective unconscious, and should not be underestimated. Takami and Fukasaku's catharsis has a creative source that goes beyond logic or academic analyses. It's the purest expression of the relation between their artistry and their violent, disenchanted realities.

Movie Details

Title: Battle Royale

Release Year: 2000

Director(s): Kinji Fukasaku

Writer(s): Koushun Takami, Kenta Fukasaku

Actors: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto, a.o.

Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes

Language: Japanese

5 stars for Battle Royale

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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