Many Japanese films gain notoriety in the United States due to their extreme subject matter, limited availability and word of mouth, and Battle Royale is no exception. Based on the Manga written by Koushun Takami, Battle Royale takes place in an alternate future where the unemployment rate has skyrocketed, causing students to boycott school as they have lost faith in the system. Fearing the impact this would have on Japan’s future, the government has taken a drastic measure and instituted the BR Act to keep the students in line.
The film focuses on Shuya Nanahara, an orphan who has recently returned to school after boycotting, just in time for the class field trip. During the trip the students on the bus are gassed and kidnapped, with all of them waking up in an unfamiliar school some time later. A helicopter descends and in comes their 7th grade teacher Kitano who informs them of their situation. The students of Class B have been selected (Via impartial lottery) to participate in Battle Royale. They are all stranded on a deserted island and only one student will be leaving alive. Each student is provided with a bag of supplies, a weapon, and a fitted collar that will explode if they break the rules or linger in a “Danger Zone” for too long. They must kill each other and be the sole survivor to earn the privilege of going home. If more than one student is alive after the 48 hours all of their collars will be detonated. The students are in obvious disbelief but are quickly convinced when Kitano not only reveals the dead body of their current teacher but also kills a student for whispering while he was speaking. Talk about strict.
The story bounces between many groups of students to reveal their personal stories, some of which loop back into the larger narrative. The primary focus is on Shuya and Noriko and their trek across the island trying to find friends and survive the attacks of fellow students. Their relationship starts off in an awkward place but they slowly begin to realize the feelings they have for each other, despite trying to hide them when in school. The film reminds me of Lord of the Flies in the way the students interact and group together, forming cliques and avoiding others based on previous experiences. The extreme situation they’ve been put into forces an equally extreme reaction from many of the students. Some timid and gentle students become aggressors, while others exploit the situation to tap into how dark and disturbed they really are.
The film does a great job of connecting their real world lives with their actions on the island and how it justifies their somewhat erratic behavior. Near the end of the film some of these stories feel repetitive, and it’s difficult to become attached to many these students due to their limited screen time. This lack of attachment lessens the impact from their deaths, save for the entertaining ways in which they are dispatched. Although some of the death scenes are impressive, many of these deaths are augmented by lackluster CG which really pulled me out of the experience.
Battle Royale is seeing its first proper release in the United States by Anchor Bay despite being released eleven years earlier. It’s been strongly believed that the film was ‘banned’ in the United States but it was simply lacking American distribution. The film was released in Japan a year after the Columbine Massacre, making the film’s concept a bit too close to home for release in the United States, which likely lead to the lack of distribution. There was an attempt in 2006 to produce an American remake of the film, but in the wake of the Virginia Tech Shootings the plans were abandoned.
Its impending American release may be overshadowed with the release of The Hunger Games series of films which follow a similar concept, but I am hoping it will bring more attention to Battle Royale and its darker, R-rated subject matter. If you are looking for an over-the-top Japanese gore and action film there are plenty of recent films you could watch, but few of them offer the same emotional connection as Battle Royale. Despite being uneven in its story it’s successful with creative death scenes, strong lead characters and an interesting premise that will put you into the characters situations and wonder what you would do if forced to fight for you own life.
Love It? Share It!
Written by Levi Neuland (@welovecult)
Some came into this world with a silver spoon, Levi came out wielding a rusty machete. Born and raised in Western New York state he spent most of his cold winters huddled inside watching bizarre and inappropriate movies for a seven-year-old. More »
What did you think? Comment below!
Comments are closed.