Battle Royale (Japan: Batoru rowaiaru), 2000.
Starring Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto, Chiaki Kuriyama and Sôsuke Takaoka.
In the not-too-distant future, a class of Japanese schoolchildren are forced to fight to the death under a tyrannical government’s ‘Battle Royale’ Act.
From Fukasaku’s prologue depicting an adolescent girl clutching a blood-spattered doll, braces discernable as she breaks into a sadistic smile at being hungrily interrogated by a crowd of frenzied reporters proclaiming her the victor of that year’s ‘game’, I could tell that this was a film I would enjoy.
Set in a dystopian Japan – a nation that has lost faith in its increasingly unstable and violent youth – Battle Royale focuses on the unruly class 3-B and their subsequent punishment under the recently instated BR Act. Overseen by their contemptuous yet darkly comedic teacher Kitano (brilliantly played by Beat Takeshi), the class of 42 proceed to beat, maim, gouge, dismember, poison, gun down and blow up each other on an remote island, in a desperate attempt to become the sole survivor that is allowed to return home. To ensure their co-operation, each child is fitted with an exploding collar that can be detonated if they fail to adhere to the rules, and to make things more interesting they are all given packs containing a random assortment of weapons, from dustbin lids to machine guns. Needless to say, carnage ensues.
But this summation seems to reduce Battle Royale to two hours of excessive, aestheticized violence and gratuitous blood and gore, which does Fukasaku a great disservice. In reality, he carefully blends his brazen style of flagrant savagery with deliberately kitsch melodrama. With Almodovarian panache, what seems like half the class declare their love for one another amid histrionic backstabbing and naively formed alliances in a unique mélange of atrocity and humour. The Japanese tradition of putting an unconventional slant on violence, exhibited by Takashi Miike’s Audition and Ichi the Killer and Takeshi Kitano’s Fireworks is continued in Battle Royale, as theatricality and death are played both for giggles and emotional resonance, making for a carefully crafted tone that is paradoxically light-hearted yet significant.
So Battle Royale is not for the squeamish, but if you can stomach casual infanticide (and embellished melodrama) you may well find yourself pleasantly surprised by Fukasaku’s elegantly composed, gleefully morbid movie about children killing each other. And thank goodness we made it through without mentioning The Hunger Games…
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★