A grimly futuristic society, a group of kids fighting to the death: looks familiar isn't it? Japan’s bloody “Battle Royale” actually got this plot before “The Hunger Games” (Author Suzanne Collins says she encountered 2000's Battle Royale only after completing The Hunger Games, published in 2008.) — released in 2000, it became a global cult hit. Adapted from the novel written by Koushon Takami, the story is set in not too distant future, where the state movies a group of teenagers into a tightly controlled terrain and compels them to murder one another with an assortment of weapons until there's a sole survivor.
It's a battle of wits and survival of the fittest with far higher stakes than the reality TV shows it mirrors. The film is a bit difficult to judge. Is it trying to be campy and exploitative with its frequent bouts of exaggerated ultra-violence? Or is it a biting satire and social criticism of an era plagued by disenfranchised and increasingly violent-prone youth?
PlotIt seems that Japan's economy in the early 2000s has taken a major dive, with double-digit unemployment and kids rampantly boycotting school and attacking adults. The school system, in concert with the military, has devised a fearsome law-enforcement device called the BR Act, in which a junior high class is selected by lottery and sent to an island where it will play Battle Royale.
Class B in Zentsuji Middle School, thinking it's going on a holiday, is gassed on its bus and sent to the island -- where the 44 students are confronted with angry teacher Kitano (Beat Takeshi), who teaches them the game's rules in one of the most startling scenes. The contest lasts 3 days. Each “contestant” has been fitted with a tracking collar that will explode if removed, or if they stray into “danger zones” on the island. The collars will also explode at the end of the three days if there is more than one contestant standing.
From here on, it’s basically a series of sketches that end with someone dying a shrieking, graphic death at the hands of a classmate.
AnalysisThe Japanese exploitation filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku was nearly seventy when he made this masterpiece, and it turned out to be his final completed film. His genius is finding the overlap between teenage dreams and nightmares, between the intensity of first love and the terror of extinction. "You're so cute," a boy confesses to the girl who just shot him in the chest. Fukasaku's narrative jerks forth in rhyme with the action, inserting sentimental flashbacks for previously underdeveloped characters right before wasting them away.
Contrasted with the paranoia of the contestants is the cool ruthlessness of their big-brother like teacher, played by the leading Japanese auteur and actor, Takashi 'Beat' Kitano. Enjoying his power over his now-attentive students, casually kills two of them. Kitano oversees the proceedings with something almost akin to boredom, as he talks to his own estranged teenage daughter on the phone who tells him “don’t bother coming home”.
The soundtrack, made up largely of booming classical music, gives an Kubrickian scale to the proceedings. I am not sure about the accuracy of the English translation, but the dialogue borders on the banal - like most of the times someone pledges undying love with their dying breath. Infatuation, petty rivalries and unshakable romanticism are common features of schoolyard life, so the script portrays these youthful concerns.
The script moves at a dizzying pace, with contestants getting killed off at an alarming rate. By the time you've worked out who the kids are, most of them have gone, in a succession of surprising, disturbing, touching, horribly funny or deeply upsetting ways. Indeed, it's a movie that never lets you settle down, zipping between satire and splatter, offering moments that will make the most hardened viewer cringe and snatches of quiet melancholy that will haunt you for a long time.
In an age where many people’s children, not many years older than the ones here, are sent to what many consider an unjust war, the movie's relevance is boundless. 'Battle Royale' gets no points for subtlety, but this confronting, devastating, hilarious and extremely dark film is a masterpiece all in its own right.
Battle Royale - Imdb