Battle Royale

One of the most controversial films of recent years, it seems to have slipped unnoticed in the UK. The story is very simple :  In the very near future, due to the lack of respect  from Japans ‘young’ the Battle Royale Act was passed. This allows a group of children, aged between 14 and 15 to be placed on an island and only one gets to walk off alive.

There is a time limit of three days to find a winner, otherwise all remaining survivors are terminated via remote controlled exploding collars. The reactions of the ‘volunteers’ are excellent, ranging from simple disbelief, paranoia, camaraderie and to basic backstabbing (literally). The island is made smaller via ‘no go’ zones enforced by the exploding collars, forcing them to come into contact with each other. Each contestant is given a bag containing food and water for three days, a map of the island, compass and a weapon. The lottery with the weapons range from a pan lid, to megaphones, swords, pistols, up to the best, which include Uzi and shotguns. No two bags are the same it seems, and you don’t want to be the chump waving a megaphone at the guy with a shotgun! Suffice to say it’s a brutal and violent film yet manages to remain very poignant.

The class that is chosen is drugged on a school trip and awake to find themselves with their seventh grade teacher Kitano, superbly played by Beat Takeshi, who ‘hosts’ the game for them. After explaining the rules via a very children’s’ TV style video, he illustrates the exploding collars by taking revenge on a former pupil for an assault he suffered while at school. The shocked and horrified children are each called to the front and given their bag before running into the night. Their teacher has still one more surprise for them, two new transfer pupils. One is a previous winner forced again into the game and the other; a psychopath who volunteered allowed to play to ‘make things interesting’. 

Throughout the inherent mistrust and internal squabbling between the pupils, they are forced them to question why they are playing. Friendships are strained and alliances are broken just as quickly as they were formed. Some see the killings as a justification to get them home, some abhor and try to form alliances under the misguided impression that they will survive as a group, some give up and take their own lives and some relish in the killings.  There is always a hint of optimism from some of the teenagers, believing that they will get off the island together. On the flip side it is disturbing to see how much a few of the teenagers relish their slayings and one wonders if they are the type who has contributed to the creation of the game in the first place.

Performances are excellent, especially Takeshi. His portrayal of Kitano is superb, and is punctuated with his trademark bowlegged gait, his twitching cheek muscles and blend of paternal goodness with ice-cold brutality. He always carries humanity with his characters, especially with his previous Yakuza films. Here in amongst all the violence his character misses his kids, eats cookies and it is presumed that he was once a good teacher. The other performances are not as strong due to the fact that the pupils are generally introduced and then killed, merely as statistics for the game. Only the more interesting are kept alive for longer, like lions and zebras; which would you rather watch, the killers or the hunted?  Key roles played by Fujiwara and Maeda are good as they bring a real feel to their roles.

Veteran director Fukasaku Kinji’s film is brutal but very poignant in its approach, heavy on the moral play but at its base level a satire on social statements that have appeared in many of his previous films. This film has forced the Japanese Parliament to discuss the issues it highlights. The film has a hint of Lord Of The Flies about it, especially once the games are underway. The death scenes are very visual and brutal, with horrifying sounds accompanying every stabbing and fountains of blood spurting. Visually the sweeping backgrounds of the island are a very stark contrast to the bloodshed. One of the most definitive films of the year.

SCORE : 8/10