Film: Battle Royale
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku, based on the novel 'Battle Royale' by Koushun Takami.
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sôsuke Takaoka, Takashi Tsukamoto, Yukihiro Kotani.
Running time: 108 min.
Two or so weeks ago, The Hunger Games came out. It seems like everyone saw it. And then everyone reviewed it. There were two words that appeared in every single review I read: Battle Royale. Every time I clicked on a review, I felt compelled to find those words and to see what kind of slam they had against The Hunger Games for 'ripping off' Battle Royale's premise. Unless, of course, I was reading a 'review' from someone in the target audience who had no idea that Battle Royale existed, or that Japan made movies, for that matter. Basically, here's the main crux of this The Hunger Games/Battle Royale situation: people who care about The Hunger Games probably haven't heard of Battle Royale; movie bloggers will always point out how similar The Hunger Games is to Battle Royale; and people who love Battle Royale are most likely to hate The Hunger Games, even without seeing it. I am a person who cared about The Hunger Games and was aware of Battle Royale, but I only just saw the latter last night. In all honesty, I really liked The Hunger Games, but Battle Royale was a far better movie. And that is where the comparisons shall end.
The film is set in the future, where Japan has basically gone to ruins and the youth are taking over the world with their recklessness. A group of forty-two students are chosen to compete in the 'Battle Royale', where they are left on a deserted island with a few food rations and a bag with a random weapon in it, and they have to kill everyone else in the battle in order to go home. It is a fairly simple premise, with more weight added to it because of the strange moral dilemma the group of students find themselves in. Sure, it is wrong to kill anyone, no matter if you know them or not. However, these students all know each other. Some of them are best friends with each other. Some of them are bred out of different cliques. Some of them have been secretly in love with one another. Some of them hate each other. The scariest thing about Battle Royale is that it is the perfect allegory for being a teenager: the Battle Royale is the perfect chance to kill someone you've always hated but never let on about your feelings in the real world.
Battle Royale gets everything right when it comes to the depiction of the teenagers. There are so many characters who have different roles to play when it comes to the game, and each actor that plays them gives them an extra intensity which is, quite frankly, extremely unsettling. In some cases, the faces that were the most scared when they were first thrown into a room and told about what they were about to do completely changed once they set foot on the battleground. They became maniacal, intent on survival, but also intent on revenge. Then there were the ones who trusted their friends to keep them safe, but then had the tables turned when their friends turned into enemies. To add to that, there are two exchange students, Kiriyama and Mitsuko who run rampant with their heartless, psychopathic murderous demeanour. The amount of different, vivid personalities that were torn apart by this vicious system is the kind of stuff that makes me look at the classes that I'm in and fear for the future. Thank goodness it is the holidays, so at least the scars will have healed a little bit and I won't be looking at my peers so strangely.
There's no denying that the film is sick in every way. The violence is abundant - perhaps more so than any other film I have seen. The way that the Battle Royale is presented - in a little 'how to' video with an over-happy girl instructing the students - is sick. Sometimes, it is a little too sick for my likings. It goes over-the-top frequently with the violence, which sort of detracted from the true immorality of the film. I never really knew how seriously it wanted to be taken: whether it wanted to be the kind of movie that was called 'cool' despite all the killing or the kind of movie that realised all of the violence that was going on in it. I would have gone for a little more realism, but I thank my lucky stars that this was not a case of realism = shaky cam. However, this film was quite the experience. An experience which I don't wish to revisit in the near future, but will have etched in my memory for a very long time. Which will be helpful because I'm definitely not showing this to my kids. I think they'll be better off with The Hunger Games if they ever develop the desire to see young people killing each other.
What I got: