Film review: Battle Royale (2000), directed by Kinji Fukasaku
As I’ve heard Battle Royale being mentioned in the same breath as The Hunger Games, I figured I should probably watch it and see what it’s about. And yes, there are similarities … of sorts.
Set in some unspecified future and/or parallel modern day Japan, kids have decided they’re too cool for school, and in order to combat this blatant disrespect for education and their elders, the Battle Royale Act is passed.
It means shipping a bunch of school kids (who think they’re going on a school trip) to an island, fitting them with explosive tracking collars, a bag of random equipment, and saying they have three days to kill each other, leaving only one person the victor – or when time’s up all the collars will explode. All graciously over-looked by their former teacher, Kitano-sensei (Takeshi Kitano).
Oh, and by the way, there will be “danger zones” on the island at certain times, where you’re going to explode if you haven’t moved off in time. (So not at all similar to the island in Catching Fire. Collins, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!)
The main pupil characters are Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda), with Tarô Yamamoto as Shôgo Kawada, Kô Shibasaki as Mitsuko Sôma, and Masanobu Andô as Kazuo Kiriyama. Splendid actors all.
While being rated 18 for being very graphic, it’s also a very thought-provoking film. How do you deal with being told “kill or be killed”? Will you try to hide? Will you turn into a killing machine? Will you try to form an alliance with other people? Will you try to lie low while working on a way to disable the collars? Would you rather commit suicide than having to kill other people? If you form an alliance with someone, can you really be 100% sure they’re not simultaneously plotting your demise?
Another thing is that you don’t get the same feel of the underlying issue having been resolved at the end of the film, because maybe that wasn’t really the point of it all anyway. In The Hunger Games you know why the Tributes have to fight (i.e. the historical reasons), and the story revolves around fighting the oppressive system which enables the Games to continue. There’s a whole resistance movement and everything. The point of that series is to take that system down and end the Games once and for all.
In Battle Royale they’re just killing off whole school classes of kids because they’re truants, and Examples need to be set. Except I didn’t get the feeling that anyone actually knew what was going on, so if they were killing youngsters off as a punishment for country-wide truancy problems, surely knowing that the threat of being carted off to an island where you’d have to slaughter your friends or face slaughter yourself would work as a deterrent. “Shit, I’d better get my act together and stay in school!” We already know that this class isn’t the first to have gone through this. There just doesn’t seem to be any point to the carnage, other than to satisfy someone’s bloodlust.
Not to say that it isn’t compelling, because it is. In some ways, it gets under your skin more than The Hunger Games, maybe because there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason behind it. Maybe it’s just the cultural difference, because one story was written in Japan and one in the United States. Speaking of which, an English-language remake of Battle Royale is apparently in the works, no doubt trying to cash in on the popularity of the aforementioned American franchise … We’ll see how that goes. No doubt the Japanese original, subtitled in English, will prove to be the better one, as is normally the case with remakes of foreign films.
4 out of 5 lighthouses.