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Review of BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

March 4, 2012 6 comments

BATTLE ROYALE バトル・ロワイアル

Toei Studios/ Japan (2000)

Directed by Kinji Fukusaku

No Action Choreographer credited

Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Masanobu Ando

“Life is a game. So fight for survival and see if you’re worth it.”

THE STORY 

The story of a not so distant dystrophic future, where the unemployment rate in Japan zooms up to 15%, leaves 10 million people out of work.  As a result, the youth rebel against their parents and authorities when 800,000 boycott going to school.  To get more control over the youth, the Government enacts a Battle Royale Act, in which each year, a randomly selected 9th grade class is kidnapped and sent to a deserted island where they are equipped with weapons and are forced to kill each other until one survivor is left.

REVIEW

The film definitely has an exploitation aspect to it and Director Fukasaku is not at all ashamed about it.  But on a deeper and subtler level, similar to John Woo’s A Bullet In The Head (喋血街頭 /1990 Golden Princess), this film is also an examination of violence on the human psyche.  The exploitation aspect is obvious because of the gore and violence we see on screen.  However, the gore is not as graphic as some of the extreme horror films that have come out here in the U.S. but visually and emotionally the film packs a walloping punch to the viewer’s gut.  The examination of the violence is in the subtext where the audience has to feel the actor’s emotions and reactions as the students are “forced” to take deadly action on their friends or die.  By doing this, the film asks the audience to feel and experience along with the unwilling participants, which can be very unsettling for many viewers who may not want to go to that emotional place for their “entertainment.”  This film can be viewed as a dark, modern day, cautionary fairy tale about the depths of where mankind can easily go.

THE ACTION CHOREOGRAPHY

At the start of the 2nd act of the movie, each kid is told the rules of the game and given their bag of survival rations and weapons to kill their fellow students.  How each student takes their bag and accepts their fate that there is a good chance they will die (without much dialogue) is key to the action and violence that is about to happen right after this scene.  Only a veteran director like Fukasaku can direct and pull the nuances out of the young actors, effectively drawing you into what is happening with each student as they internalize what is transpiring right before them. before their eyes.  This is a scene a younger or inexperienced director might simply overlook or trivialize, but Fukasaku sucks you in with that scene and keeps you emotionally on the edge from this point on and never lets you go.

Since this film is coming from Asia, don’t expect the action scenes to be a beautifully choreographed, flowing, elegant, dance like, John Woo-esque “gun fu” blood ballets.  The brawls, shootings, and killings are rough, ugly, and brutal… yet it is still effective and well choreographed.  The camera angles are set up so you can see everything that is happening; with necessary emotional close ups to capture the emotions, while the editing steps up the pace without calling any unnecessary attention to either camera work or editing.  There are no shaky hand held shots or fast paced “epileptic style edits” to artificially replace the emotion(s) of the scene.  What you see on screen are sobering action scenes that will make you emotionally uncomfortable (without being too extremely gory with the visuals).

There are many little action pieces throughout the film that is very different from one another without ever getting repetitious.  What I liked about the action scenes in this movie was how each student dealt with having to have to kill (external motivation), mixed with the reluctance to have to do so (internal conflict), and the different reactions once the act was committed.  The one of the many action scenes that stands out for me is the unfolding of the girl gunfight at the lighthouse.  The set up and resolution was so deliciously dark.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Rumor has it that this film would never get an official release here in the U.S. because of the recent student shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine.  However, that fact is far from the truth.  The film has been screened at several film festivals and at special screenings but has not opened to a wider domestic release in theaters.  Toei Films (the company that owns the rights to the film) are asking for a big price tag for this film in order for it to get an official release here.  The problem with that theory is the core audience who desperately wants to see this movie already have a copy of the movie through bootleg or have bought an imported version of the DVD from another country.

This is a must see modern classic by a master filmmaker with 40 years experience behind him.  Unfortunately, this was Director Fukasaku’s last completed film.  He passed away at the age of 72 while he was in the middle of working on the sequel to this film.  Battle Royale is based off the popular Japanese novel and can be considered the Lord of the Flies or Clockwork Orange for the new millennium.

If you are seeking out this movie, I highly recommend you get the director’s cut, which has a running time of 122 minutes (original theatrical release is 114 min) that has several flashbacks and back-story for some characters.

NOTE: I wrote this review well before finding out Anchor Bay will be giving Battle Royale it’s official US release on home video on March 20, 2012.  I am sure this is not a coincidence but the home video release will be several days before the theatrical release of Hunger Games, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, which looks like a very toned down version of Battle Royale.  The New York Times defends Battle Royale and reports that “the parallels are striking enough that Collins’s work has been savaged on the blogosphere as a bald-faced ripoff,” but that “there are enough possible sources for the plot line that the two authors might well have hit on the same basic setup independently.” *

*source: wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Royale

Copyright 2012. All text is the property of John Kreng and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.