Imagine your ninth grade self awakening from a deep sleep, on a bus that was supposed to take you on a field trip. As you drearily gaze around, you notice that all of your classmates are fast asleep. Immediately, you feel a surge of panic arise in your chest. Something doesn’t feel right. As you look toward the front of the bus, your fear escalates when you see all of the adults on the bus are now wearing gas masks. One woman catches your stare and advances toward you with a club. Pain races through your brain as she brings it down upon your head, and the world fades away into darkness. The next time you wake up, you’re in what appears to be an old classroom, surrounded by your schoolmates, and you’re all wearing electronic dog collars. You see your old teacher come in, and for a second, you think perhaps this was all a big joke. Maybe you’re still dreaming. However, when he brings your current instructor in, dead, on a stretcher, the nightmare becomes too real to deny. You’re about to play “Battle Royale”.
In the near future, Japan is on the verge of economic collapse. The nation turns into an anarchic, chaos-filled world, where unemployment is sky-rocketing, kids are refusing to go to school, and even harming their teachers. The government decides to fight back in a sadistic way: The Battle Royale Act. One class is randomly selected every year to go to a deserted island to play the ‘Battle Royale Game’, where students have three days to murder each other until only one is left. Every child is given a small amount of food and water, a map, a pen, and a random weapon. This time, a ninth grade class with forty-two students is chosen to play. Mr. Kitano (Takeshi Kitano), the students’ old seventh grade teacher, is in charge of the event, with the military at his disposal.
I try not to use the word ‘masterpiece’ too often, because it holds a lot of value, and I feel that it shouldn’t be stated unless it’s absolutely true. Having said that, Battle Royale is a masterpiece. It’s able to display an excessive amount of gore, while at the same time obtaining sympathy for the characters. Although the two main children, Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda), are prominently shown throughout the film, director Kinji Fukasaku focuses on the other kids just enough to mislead the viewers about who lives and who dies. He also manages to show an exuberant battle beautifully, without shaky cam, in a manner where the actions played out are fully understood. There’s no guessing about what happens to each child, because there’s no quick shots covering up the violence. Every hideous act is out on display for the audience to witness fully. He expresses the beauty of battle, while yet still maintaining the dark undertone of the film.
Another great aspect of this phenomenal movie is how different each student really is. Every character has layers, even the cruel teacher in charge. Some pupils simply cannot bare the thought of murdering their friends, and elect to end their lives by their own hands as soon as the game starts. Others become much too enthralled in this demonic world, and kill their peers without a second thought. I truly believe that there is a character for every audience member to relate to. Other than the morality of the treatment of minors, this movie also asks the viewer to consider what he or she would do in the same situation. Would you be able to kill your best friend if it meant your survival? Would you give up early and choose suicide? Or would you try to find an alternate route off the island? There are many options to choose from, and it’s very interesting to see how these young people adapt to their quickly changing world.
The entire cast of Battle Royale is exquisite. Takeshi Kitano blew me away, as the teacher who seeks revenge on his untamed class. He’s terrifying, but he’s also more than that. He fills the shoes of the executer with lonely feet, an emotion he throws in the students’ faces because now, he finally has the chance. Tatsuya Fujiwar is also extremely impressive as Shuya, the boy who’s lost everything but his will to live. Ko Shibasaki was electrifying as Mitsuko, the popular-girl-turned-warrior-princess who takes out anyone who dare step in her path. Chiaki Kuryiyama did such a great job playing Takako that Quentin Tarantino even noticed, and cast her in his film “Kill Bill” as Gogo. I could go on and on, but I’d probably end up listing the entire forty-something actors who played the class. The point is, every actor gave it their all, and it really helps make the film what it is–a study of teenage torment exemplified by alarming circumstances.
Since I am a fan of this movie, it’s probably obvious that I’m not a fan of Hunger Games. However, I’m not writing this to bash fans of the newer movie. I will say this, though: if you saw Hunger Games and were disappointed with the violence, like many people were, then you should give “Battle Royale” a chance. Foreign films tend to have more leniency when it comes to bloodshed, so naturally this Japanese movie is more ferocious. For eleven years, you couldn’t even find “Battle Royale” in the United States, because the MPAA felt that it was too horrid to show. Luckily, it’s been released on DVD and Blu-ray recently, so Americans can finally see what they’ve been missing out on.
Whether you’re looking for a commentary on capitalism, entertaining fight scenes, an intriguing cast, or just some plain old gore, Battle Royale will not disappoint you. I’m not sure if the local video stores will have this movie, but you can definitely find it online if you’re interested.