All Reviews, Drama, Horror, International Films, Japan

Battle Royale

When Paynecraft generously gave me permission to review this (it was originally going to be written by him) I nearly wet myself. It’s safe to say I’m a fanboy, not necessarily of “Battle Royale” so much as of “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, who plays the teacher in the film. Takeshi easily rivals the intensity of such American actors as Eastwood and DeNiro, and he does not disappoint here.

In the alternate reality of “Battle Royale” (the film is set in 2000, the year it was released theatrically), Japan is fighting back against its rebellious youth. Tired of a society in which a mounting lack of respect is shown, the government passes a law that, once a year, places the worst class of a randomly drawn high school on an island. The purpose? A game to the death: Each person is given a random weapon and, at the end of three days, only one person can be left alive.

The most disturbing thing here is that these kids are not demons; they’re typical emotional teenagers with real-world concerns and reactions. In the midst of all the carnage, which some people have trouble accepting as real, friends have crushes and playfully bicker, all the while knowing that the deadline (and that word is very appropriate) is fast approaching. How would you respond? Given no choice, could you kill your best friend?

“Battle Royale” is not horror in the classic sense; rather it is a suspense film that is, at times, quite horrifying because we can see how close to reality the behaviors exhibited by these characters actually are. Rather than flesh out whole characters, the film is content to parade a host of different personalities before us, most of whom you will recognize in the people around you, and that’s the scariest thing of all: you know people who would act like this. In fact, in all probability, you will recognize yourself onscreen.

The emotional impact of this film packs a wallop. There’s more, though. There’s an undertone of disgust to the entire piece, not aimed at the children, but at government. Additionally, it has some haunting visuals. The image of a previous winner of the game – smiling, holding her rag doll, and covered in blood – rates right up there with any of Kubrik’s signature shots (D’Onofrio in “Full Metal Jacket” or Nicholson in “The Shining,” for example). You won’t easily forget her.

Unfortunately, “Battle Royale” is not yet available in America (or Great Britain, I believe) except on an import disc. I picked up an exellent VCD set (legit, by the way) on eBay for $9 a couple of years ago, so you can get it on the cheap; it is worth the trouble.

Incidentally, fans of Quentin Tarentino’s “Kill Bill, Volume One” will recognize Chiaki Kuriyama, who played the assassin Gogo, complete with the same schoolgirl uniform she wears in “Battle Royale.” It’s safe to say Mr. Tarentino is a fanboy, too.

Pros: Has the balls to show an amazingly disturbing concept. Also has characters reacting realistically …
Cons: …in a fairly unrealistic setting. Additionally, the ending may throw some viewers.
Review Rating: 4 out of 5 flashlights aren’t gonna top an UZI, no matter how you use them.

Battle Royale (2000)
Also known as: Batoru Rowaiaru
114 Minutes; Japan
Not Rated, but is proabably equivalent to an NC-17 due to intense images of violence aimed at (and directed by) children.

Starring:
Tatsuya Fujiwara (Shuya Nanahara)
Aki Maeda (Noriko Nakagawa)
Taro Yamamoto (Shougo Kawada)
Masanobu Ando (Kazuo Kiriyama)
Kou Shibasaki (Mitsuko Souma)
Chiaki Kuriyama (Takako Chigusa)
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Viewing Format: VCD

(Originally published on HorrorWatch)

About John Daily

John is a freelance writer, columnist and critic. His work has appeared in print, as well as on sites such as ScifiWatch and HorrorWatch (where he wrote under the complete meaningless moniker “Bloody Taco”). An archive of his film-related material is available at cinemaspin.wordpress.com. Currently, he can be found spouting his special brand of sarcastic nonsense at CigarHell.com or Twitter (JohnNDaily).

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