Wow! Can it be nearly one month since I last posted? Hmmm... this watching the baby thing is a little more time consuming than I had originally expected. Well, I’ve got a little time now, so I think it’s time to dip back into my well of movies I’ve obtained from various conventions.
Battle Royale is probably one of my favorite movies. Depending on my mood, I’d probably place it in my top 10. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku and starring the great actor Takeshi “Beat” Kitano and large cast of kids, the movie was originally released in Japan in 2000 to much acclaim and financial success. However, the controversial nature of the film pretty much precluded it’s being released here, especially in the wake of the Columbine shootings.
The premise of the movie is this: in the near-future, as unemployment (especially among the young) rises, Japanese students and teens are becoming increasingly rebellious and violent. In an effort to curb this violence, the government enacts the “Millennium Education Reform” act (AKA “Battle Royale”), basically an organized method to channel this violence, and cull the herd, so to speak.
So- what happens? Let’s begin at the beginning-
The movie opens with a group of reporters trying to get an interview with the winner of the battle. Cut to a girl in a bloody school uniform. She smiles. Fade to black...
A senior class is on a bus, traveling to their graduation trip. As the bus goes through a tunnel, they are suddenly gassed into unconsciousness. When they wake up, they are in what appears to be an abandoned school. A former teacher (Kitano) of theirs who had been stabbed by one of the students several years earlier explains what has happened.
They have been randomly selected to compete in the Battle Royale. They have been shipped to a remote island where, over the next 48 hours, they will be fighting each other to the death until only one student left is left alive. If, at the end of that time, more than one student is alive, all of them will be killed. To make the game more interesting, they have all been fitted with explosive necklaces. At certain times during the game random areas of the island will be declared off-limits. Any students in those areas at the time will have their necklaces exploded.
Each student is given a pack of survival gear and sent out to begin the game. The packs are all they will be given to help them fight. The items in the packs range from the very useful (Uzis, axes, knives, pistols) to somewhat less so (a paper fan, binoculars, a megaphone).
From here on out, what could simply have devolved into a splatterfest a la Saw or Hostel, where we see a lot of blood and guts spilled from characters we don’t care too much about or know too much about (given the size of the cast (44 students), it’s to be expected that the movie would not have enough time to flesh them all out). But the movie throws us for a loop- we start to care about the kids. Part of it, I think, is that it’s easy to feel empathy for their situation- they’ve committed no crime other than being young, and now they have to kill or be killed.
The reactions of the students are pretty realistic- a few just freak out and become easy targets. Some of the students hide themselves and try to figure out ways to beat the system. Others band together and hope that that maybe more than one will be allowed to make it out alive.
One of the layers of the movie is the director understands the cliquishness of high school and the drama of simply being a teenager. How do you shoot someone you’ve known all your life? Does knowing she’s the school’s stuck bitch make it easier for you to pull the trigger? Or does the fact that you’ve secretly had a crush on her make it harder to shoot her, even as she’s coming at you with a gun of her own?
Or what do you do when you think that one of your best friends may have poisoned you? Even though you've known her your whole life, and she denies it, she did try to steal your boyfriend that one time...
Out of all the students, the ones we spend the most time with are a young couple, Noriko and Nanahara, and Kawada, someone they’d never seen before. Kawada, it turns out, won a previous Battle Royale, but only after he ended up killing his girlfriend. Somehow he got kidnapped to participate in this one, and to atone for his girlfriend’s death, promises to help Noriko and Nanahara get off the island. This will be no easy task, especially since there is one more ringer in the mix- an unnamed psychotic who signed up to play simply because he wanted to kill people, a task which he proves to be very skilled at.
The movie manages to keep the suspense levels high as we can never be sure who’s going to survive. Although some of the kids prove to be surprisingly good at killing, dumb luck and fate help even the playing field a bit. Just when you think someone is going to do well, and maybe have a chance to win the game, they’ll get offed.
I won’t spoil the ending to reveal who wins, although most people will probably figure it out before the movie’s end, even despite the twists and turns getting there. This one that’s definitely worth searching for.