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Battle Royale (2000)

July 21, 2010

7/10 World’s Worst Field Trips

Exactly the kind of stuff that American film makers could never get away with.

Battle Royale takes place in an alternate Japan where society is collapsing, the youth are revolting and the only solution the higher ups can come up with to get these kiddies back on track is to randomly select a class of High School Freshmen, send them to a deserted island and give them three days to kill each other until there’s only one Frosh left standing. The story itself follows two kids in one of the said classes who fight to survive and beat the system so that one of them doesn’t have to literally bite the bullet in order for the other to survive.

Probably not the most sound course of action when trying to rebuild your country, but hey, times are tough, whatcha gonna do? After all, wouldn’t put it past those Tea Partiers to pull some wacko shit like this.

Now, over the years, this movie has truly taken on a life of its own. Just like with Ichi the Killer, it’s one of those things that sets off your Spidey sense whenever it comes up in conversation, like you’re part of some secret club that only you and that other guy you just exchanged glances with know about, something that Tyler Durden’s probably behind. You’ll never hear about it in mainstream media, Oprah would surely dedicate a week-long special lampooning it if she ever caught wind, Sarah Palin would undoubtedly tie it into her 2012 campaign so that the overprotective parents of this fine nation won’t have to worry about this sick filth, and that’s exactly why I’m glad to be a member.

See, this movie is an exercise in the extreme. It’s like a modern-day retelling of Lord of the Flies, only all the kids have crossbows and uzis instead of conch shells and bifocals, and something tells me that idea is gonna rub a lot of folks the wrong way. No, kids killing kids isn’t the easiest thing to endorse, but lucky for everyone, this isn’t a documentary, it’s a fucking movie, and the film makers are well aware of that, too.

After reading through the source material a few months back, it was nice to see that with the exception of a weird ending change and a general lack of message outside of why democracy isn’t such a bad idea after all, this is an adaptation that religiously follows its inspiration. Only problem is that the book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly great either. I don’t know, one can only wake up, get on the train to work and churn out twenty pages depicting kids offing one another for so long without getting a little tired of it all, but even if that was exactly what I was looking for complement my cup of joe, the novelty wears a bit thin after a while. On the other hand, this movie really doesn’t take itself seriously whatsoever.

And that’s kind of the pro and con of Battle Royale. It starts off with a sharp, dark sense of humor thanks to the addition of Takeshi Kitano as the class’ former gym teacher who treats the kids’ current circumstances like it’s a game of dodgeball, but then he goes away for a good long while, things stop being intentionally funny and the movie takes on this weird joke-y tone. I’m betting that this was intentional on director Kinji Fukusaku’s part, but as it becomes more and more unrealistic it takes away from the warped gravity of the situation when the violence equates to a glorified version of homicidal Power Rangers, just without all that morphin’ crap.

But I will give the guy credit for successfully managing to balance some 40-odd characters, making them all stand out in their own little ways and not just treating them as collateral damage. Well, that’s exactly how they’re treated in the novel, but I’m thinking it’s a lot harder to give everyone a story over the course of two hours than it is over the course of 500+ pages.

Although the rest of the cast and their laughable acting abilities aren’t helping matters much either, the only saving grace of the bunch being Chiaki Kuriyama (aka: Gogo Yubari) who actually pulls off being a stone cold badass in the short time she’s around. Nevertheless, everyone else pretty much blows. But like I said, Fukusaku’s making this movie with a grain of salt because I think I’d be a lot harder to swallow if it was a cringe-inducing experience on par with Audition, Jr.

I’ve seen this movie a couple times and while it’s definitely something different that’s very likable in a way that only non-American film makers can pull off, I’m still having trouble mulling over the reasons why this thing is so highly regarded in underground circles. In some ways, Battle Royale doesn’t quite live up to the hype and I strangely wish it had upped the shock value and toned down the camp, but it’s still a rite of passage for anyone interested in all things sick and twisted. For a one-trick pony of sorts, it’s still pretty gnarly, and if this is your first time hearing about it, give it a shot and see how it fits. After all, it is a pretty cool club to be in.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2010 5:27 am

    I haven’t seen this for years but I remember liking it but didn’t quite see why it received so much hype.

    • July 21, 2010 10:42 am

      Yeah, same kinda vibe I got. Some wacky shit though, man.

  2. July 21, 2010 11:01 am

    not normally into this kind of sixth form stuff – but would like to see it

    • July 21, 2010 11:10 am

      just had to google what the hell “sixth form” meant. you Brits and your schooling…

      worth a look alright, not your usual High School movie. and where the hell have you been, man? we miss you around these parts.

      • July 21, 2010 1:01 pm

        sorry. been quiet. got distracted by the World Cup. and by being a lazy git.

      • July 21, 2010 1:09 pm

        haha, no worries. glad to see your green lizard pinata face again.

  3. July 21, 2010 12:25 pm

    I saw this of a couple of months ago. Its not exactly what I expected. Knowing that its about kids killing kids and with a title like Battle Royale, I thought it was bloody violent. Its not. Like you said, there were quite a lot of laughable acting and a lot of the action is cartoonish. But the story is interesting. ..twisted as it is. I’ll give it that.

    Part of the reason why I finally checked Battle Royale out is because of the Hunger Games which is getting a film adaptation out in maybe 2011. It has a somewhat similar premise where the games involve kids turning on kids…although I find the games more brutal and plays a bigger part in the “government” trying to control its people.

    • July 21, 2010 12:38 pm

      Just Wikipedia’d The Hunger Games, looks awesome! Could use some lighter reading this Summer, might have to hit that up. Really wish this movie had expanded more on the government’s role in the grand scheme of things instead of just giving a kind of “Because we said so” excuse.

  4. July 21, 2010 8:50 pm

    I’m soooo fucking jealous… can’t find a copy of this anywhere!

  5. July 22, 2010 11:11 am

    Yeah this film is aces, although I’ve never took the time to review it on my site. Just make sure you stay away from the horrible sequel.

    • July 22, 2010 11:21 am

      Yeah, I can’t even imagine what else there is to say on the matter of kids killing each other for two hours that was covered here.

  6. Branden permalink
    July 22, 2010 7:48 pm

    First of all, I liked the morph’ crap. Don’t bad mouth Power Rangers.

    I reviewed this movie a year and half ago. The first time I saw it, I turned it off when the kids started killing each other. Then, I sat through it again. I was horrified about what was happening. The characters were one dimensional and they have to have a petty fight or something in order to kill each other and move the plot along.

    • July 23, 2010 8:06 am

      Yeah, Battle Royale is definitely acquired viewing. Idk, there’s something enjoyable about the absurdity of it all since the way these kids kill each other and die off is almost comical. Not a great movie by any means, but worth watching if only to garner a reaction like yours.

  7. July 29, 2010 4:45 pm

    It’s been a few years since I’ve seen this, but I did enjoy it – It was one of those films that really shouldn’t work, due to a combination of elements, but it did work and it certainly gave me that initial new type of shock value. I agree though – It could have maintained the shock factor for longer and kept the depth and darkness, while balancing it with comedy.
    There are a lot of films, I find, that can be found on “Top” lists or are highly regarded by those who consider themselves in-the-know and then when you go to watch them, you’re quietly searching for the magic which earned them that place. If I don’t find that magic, I either put it down to a difference in taste or to the fact that sometimes certain films are seen as a fashionable favourite, sort of a boho peer favourite, if you know what I mean 🙂

    • July 30, 2010 8:00 am

      Good point! This movie really does have a lot of things working against it and the fact that it doesn’t completely crash and burn, let alone actually succeed on a number of levels, is something else. And I totally agree with you about the “magic” of the movie that earned it such a cult status over the years. Wasn’t crazy about it myself, but I can see how others would dig it like no other. Great comment, Roisin. Just dropped some major knowledge on me there.

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