Battle Royale
Dir: Kinji Fukasaku
Star: Aki Maeda, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Takeshi "Beat" Kitano, Taro Yamamoto
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 2001
Format: DVD R0

WARNING: I think that I should warn you that due to the violent content of this film some viewers may find it abhorrent. Therefore if you find this sort of thing offensive you may prefer alternative viewing material.

At the dawn of the Millenium, the nation collapsed. At 15% unemployment, 10 million were out of work, 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence, and fearing the youth, eventually passed the "Millenium Educational Reform Act"........AKA: The BR Act.

The BR Act is the ultimate in juvenile control, brought about due to the increasing levels of social disorder instigated by the country's youth including serious assaults upon the adult population. The popularity of the BR Act is so great that the media treat it as a "reality TV game show" ensuring that the survivor of the game is an instant household name. Every year the Japanese government hold a lottery in order to select an unsuspecting high school class to undertake the Battle Royale. The contest involves the contestants (ie: the students) being depositted upon a deserted island and upon arrival they are each given a bag at random which contain's food and water, a map and compass, a torch and a weapon of some description. The students are also "tagged" with neck collars which monitor their vital signs, tracks them via GPS (Global Positioning System) and are boobytrapped so they will explode if the contestant tries to escape. The collars will also explode should a contestant wander into one of the designated "danger" zones during the contest (which are added every six hours and relayed to the students with the progress reports), try to remove the collar or if there is more than one person left alive after the 3 day battle, it will explode. Other than that anything goes in a no holds barred battle ,so one way or another the students will fight to the death.

"Life is a game. So fight for survival and find out if your worth it!"

The kid's of class 9-C have unwittingly been selected for this years Battle Royale and after they are knocked out by gas whilst on a coach journeying to a "field trip" they awaken in an old dark schoolroom. As they all come to they notice that they have all been fitted with shiny metal neck collar and before they can speculate further, the room is stormed by armed soldiers who are accompanied by a former teacher called Kitano. (Beat Takeshi) Kitano proceeds to explain that they have been selected for Battle Royale and after a brief instructional video which explains the rules of the contest hosted by the excitable Oneesan (Yuko Miyamura) the kids need a little encouragement to accept their predicament. So after one dead teacher and two dead students the game is started and each student is given their "booty bag" and despatched to the game zone. Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) doesn't want to fight but vows that he will protect his sweetheart Noriko (Aki Maeda) at any cost, but as the combined weapons of their packs comprise a pair of binoculars and a pan lid it may get a little difficult. Before the release of old rivalries and schoolyard grudges the students have another little problem in the shape of a previous Battle Royale winner called Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and a wild haired psychopathic thrillseeker who volunteered for the contest called Kiriryama (Masanobu Ando). Friends are forced to revaluate their allegience's and despatch their friends at every oppurtunity, some relish the freedom and become veritable predators and others commit suicide rather than face off against their classmates. As Shuya frantically tries to protect Noriko against the dwindling number of remaining students they grow close and fall for each other but in the end only one can survive.

Battle Royale is adapted from the eponymous, cult novel and more recently a Manga book of the same name written by Koshun Takami. The film is one of the most controversial pieces of cinema for years and like the book has sparked outrage and controversy and has obvoiusly hit a few raw nerves as politicians and the like all protested to get the film banned. Battle Royale was the real hit of 2001 and left Pearl Harbor for dead at the box office even with a low key release and virtually none or minimal advertising or hype and without an American release. The main cause for the shock and outrage over the book and the film was that the story allegedly mirrors the possible changes in the modern Japanese society, essentially the confrontational attitudes between the adult and adolescent population.

The film has been likened to A Clockwork Orange by many critics and in addition to the obvious ultra violence which shocked a nation in both films they also depict a society in ruins with the government struggling to maintain control and order. The two films are virtual dopplegangers with their similarities and yet they each remain quite original, but without being too different. The graphic and blood soaked melee of violence in Battle Royale like A Clockwork Orange is accompanied by some inspired use of classical music. Well known orchestral pieces by Bach, Verdi and Strauss are used to full dramatic effect as an almost tranquil paradox to the on-screen carnage. The on screen violence is superbly captured by the directorial prowess of Kinji Fukasaku and I would the way that it flows gracefully through some reasonibly horrific bloodletting could only be likened to a frenetic ballet. The action is well choreographed and maintains a startling degree of realism throughout which can be both shocking and breathtaking at the same time. Kinji Fukasaku also manages to capture some marvellous photography and without pulling any punches he offers you a film that is macabre, a little disturbing, hypnotically beguiling and breathtaking on a tour-de-force platter of ultra-violence.

Considering that the majority of the cast are kid's they all provide great performances, admittedly a lot of them just have to die (often horribly) but there is some excellent character development and some ingenious set pieces. Aki Maeda is simply marvellous and almost strolled through the film with ease with some good combat and dramatic scenes I would like to see her do a lot more in the future. Tatsuya Fujiwara provides an all round good performance and only occasionally does his acting waiver somewhat, but he is well conducted during his combat sequences which adequately make up for previous shortcomings. Kou Shibasaki plays the class "hottie" Mitsuko, who goes from most to least popular very quickly and portrays her character with a devious, calculating and methodically murderous cool intent which is at times a little scary. The scene where she is sat in the pouring rain managing to look sweet and innocent right before you see her change and burst into action is hard to forget afterward. The role of Kitano the teacher could only really have been played by Beat Takeshi as his style suits the maniacal and matter of fact persona of this maleavolent educator, which he proves to chilling effect. Although he doesn't really say anything Masanobu Ando has a great part as the homicidal lunatic Kiriyama, and manages to be quite unnerving. Ocassionally seasoned by some very dark humour (the hand grenade in the decapitated head is very Sam Raimi) the film works well overrall, but the image of school children running around with a varied assortment of weapons is one that will stick for a while .......especially the cute little Mitsuko and her Kama (sickle)

With an almost video game style this is a very cool and thought provoking movie and a veritable teen-gore fest which naturally has an underlying message. Basically speaking this is a film that is likely to leave you stunned, numb and unable to say much other than "WOW" when it finishes, a modern day equivalent to A Clockwork Orange. I am rather impressed and not just because I am a fan of Asian cinema.

Have you ever killed your best friend?

Rating: 4 out of 5

Glitz's say:

Battle Royale is a violent film, but it may not be a shocking, as you'd think. The violence tends to be rather stylised and over the top so it plays like a video game rather than real life. The biggest problem is that there is so much of it, so that by the end of the film you are desensitised and any shock value it does have is lost. This is not helped by the lack of invention in the way it is employed; for example the explosive collars (a cool idea ripped off from The Running Man) are practically ignored.

The plot is rather far-fetched and silly. Maybe this is because not enough time is taken to provide a reason for pupils to be on the island. No indication of the state of the society in which such extreme measures are required is given and this does weaken the film. Maybe it would have been better if the whole thing was viewed from a TV programs perspective (like the films opening sequence). Having said this when the action begins the character interaction is thought provoking and fascinating. This is backed up by an excellent young cast. My only other criticism is that the ending is rather muddled and pretty lame, it just doesn't have a clue when to stop and it fails to deliver the knockout punch.

Battle Royale is thought provoking and fun in a bloody way. It is Lord of the flies meets The Running Man. With bit more concentration on the back story rather than the violence this would have been a classic (For once I would love to see a remake that fixes the faults. That is as long as Paul Verhoeven got to direct it). Overall this is a great but extremely violent way to fill an evening.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Picture 1.85:1 Anamorphic Good transfer but not fantastic
Audio Stereo Luck lustre stereo Japanese language soundtrack
Features Animated Menu with an anime girl which is worth allowing the 58 seconds to run it's cycle.
Static Director & Cast filmographies (5 in total)
Original Trailer
4 Photos
Preview Trailers from other Tartan Asia Extreme releases
A Short set of notes about the film by Mark Wyatt
Verdict Hardly any extras, and lack of anything more than a Japanese stereo soundtrack is unforgivable. There is simply no excuse for a DVD to be presented with 'burned on' subtitles with no option to turn them off and use a dubbing track.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Reviewed by logan Link Back Top Home