Film Reviews:

Battle Royale / Batoru Rowaiaru

(Kinji Fukasaku, Japan, 2000)

[Battle Royale]It's the start of the new millennium. Compulsory education is coming to an end. The military patrol the streets at night, and Japan's government has passed the Education Reform Act in an attempt to counter the collapsing social order caused by the increasingly unruly youth of society.

Based upon a popular novel of the same title by Koushun Takami, the film is a hysterical reaction to Japan's perceived social decay. Having been to Japan several times myself I know this is more paranoia than reality. But the Japanese media would have you believe that the dystopian future presented by Battle Royale is not only possible but probable - and kids are predominantly to blame. So whilst this all looks rather ludicrous to western minds - it resonates on a different level if you live in Japan.

In an amazing feat of effective government policy implementation, the annual Battle Royale event pits the most dangerous school kids against one another in a to-the-death survival battle of the fittest by dumping classes of kids onto an island and kitting them out with an impressive array of weaponry. The idea is that they all simply kill each other - thus removing the anti-social problem for another 12 months whilst providing a ratings pulling reality game show!

[Battle Royale]The kids' chances of surviving the longest largely depend on a combination of their resourcefulness, the extent of their violent tendencies and the weapons they have each been allocated. An example of the bizarre sense of humour that pervades the entire concept is that whilst some students have shotguns and revolvers to take out their opponents, others have nothing more than big sticks, with which to despatch their foes - a far greater challenge and hardly a level playing field. Neck collars (which explode if you attempt to remove them) keep the kids in line and track their moves for the cameras to capture the whole thing and broadcast it all.

All the schoolchildren are reduced to simply numbers: Boys#10, Girls#12 etcetera; cannon fodder whose deaths are (amusingly) kept score of by on-screen captions. (Kill Bill: Vol. 1's deadly Japanese schoolgirl Chiaki Kuriyama briefly appears as schoolgirl #13.) Alliances with classroom friends and petty differences between peers are heightened to the extreme, as finding reasons for killing a fellow human being are reduced to trivialities such as a dislike for a classmate's dress sense. Presiding over all this 'survival of the fittest' chaos is Takeshi 'Beat' Kitano as the government's programme coordinator, Kitano. Setting the tone for the proceedings at the start, he nonchalantly despatches (with a throwing knife to the forehead) wining children who simply cannot take the news that they have been selected for the annual event.

Sadly, despite such a deliriously insane and promising set-up, the delivery is disappointingly mundane. The black humour is perhaps the film's biggest asset, the film makers quickly junk the socio-political pretext in favour of an overly familiar stalk and slash, body count formula. Some of the kills are simultaneously entertaining and shocking, but with everyone's tongue very firmly in their cheeks throughout, you'd be wasting your time trying to take any of this seriously. Which somewhat negates the entire 'hoodlum youth' message. Death Race 2000 did much the same thing far better in 1975 where the socio-political commentary was as cutting as the humour. Alternatively, you can go as far back as 1932 for The Most Dangerous Game that used the same basic remote island location for a series of stalking murders. 6/10

Rob Dyer (April 2007)

See also:

Battle Royale II: Requiem
Beast Must Die, The
Death Race 2000
Lord of The Flies
Lord of The Flies
Most Dangerous Game, The
No Escape
Running Man, The
Series 7: The Contenders
10th Victim, The
Tokyo 10+01
Year of the Sex Olympics, The

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