“Here’s your list of friends in the order they died”
Reviewing Battle Royale can be done using just one word… Masterpiece. This may sound like excessive hyperbole but it’s not. Battle Royale is a work of genius that everybody should own. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku & based on the novel by Koshun Takami, Battle Royale caused a wave of controversy when it was released in Japan, even having the effects of the movie’s violence debated by the government of the time. To just see Battle Royale as some kind of violent horror movie is to completely miss the whole point of the film. Fukasaku himself has described the movie as a fable.
The plot itself is simple, as Japan enters the new millennium the nation is at breaking point. Unemployment is running at 15% & the adults begin to fear the youth so the government passes the BR Act. Each year a class of graduating students are taken to an island where they are given 3 days to kill each other until only one survives. Each student is fitted with a necklace, if there is no outright winner after 3 days, all the necklaces explode, killing all the children. As the students leave the compound in the centre of the island where the have just been briefed, they are each given a bag. Inside the bag is food, water, a map & a random weapon (random to try to balance out natural selection) The classmates are joined for “the game” by two other kids, one who has already survived a game & the other who is there for fun & clearly psychotic.
What Fukasaku achieves with Battle Royale is to focus on the human element of the story. The film’s promotional tagline was the question “Could you kill your best friend?” Think about that for a second, picture your best friend & ask yourself that question. Now think about how you would have answered that question at aged 15. Unlike western movies about schoolkids, where the kids are portrayed by actors in their 20s, Battle Royale’s children are on the whole played by actors of that age (including the future GoGo Yubari, Chiaki Kuriyama) Even in the thick of the carnage, the kids stick to their friendships & crushes, until the overriding air of paranoia destroys everything the have known & take comfort in. With the exception of a couple of children, most are portrayed as innocents, caught up in something they have no chance of understanding & even less of a chance of surviving. Fukasaku hammers home the emotional content. Watching the film you cannot help but feel for these characters. You feel the despair of the children that refuse to play the game & take their own lives, the futility of the girls that turn on each other in the lighthouse & the shock as pupils hear that their best friends are dead via the island’s PA system. Each shock is delivered with an incredible emotional resonance behind it. Credit must also go to the young cast, who put in some incredibly powerful performances. This movie has been a favorite of mine since i first saw it. It’s a movie that strikes a perfect balence between character development, plot exposistion & action. I would say that as good as the theatrical version is, & it is good. The movie needs to be seen in as the director’s cut. It has little touches that add so much to the overall film. Well worth paying that bit extra for.
Battle Royale is as near perfect as a movie can be (maybe only eclipsed the incredible Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy or the wonderful Betty Blue) The acting by the kids is excellent throughout & Takeshi Kitano is suitably nasty as the class’ teacher & the movie’s central bad guy. The film looks amazing, beautifully filmed it truly is a visual spectacle. A must see movie. Battle Royale spawned a sequel Battle Royale 2 Requiem. A truly God-awful pile of crap that isn’t fit to share the name Battle Royale with its predessor. Battle Royale is a movie you need to see, you then need to buy. A classic.