Friday, 13 May 2011

Battle Royale

Year: 2000
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kenta Fukasaku, based on the novel Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Takeshi "Beat" Kitano, Masanobu Ando
Running Time: 114 minutes, and a 122 minute Director's Cut
Genre: Science-fiction, action, horror

Summary: In the near future the Japanese government, concerned at rising truancy and unemployment figures, as well as an increase in youth crime, authorises the Millennium Educational Reform Act, better known as "the Battle Royale Act", in which every year, a randomly selected high school class are taken to an uninhabited island. There they are fitted with lethal explosive collars, and forced to fight each other in a three day battle to the death until there is one survivor.
This year, a high school class, who believe that they are going on an ordinary school trip, are drugged, taken to the island and forced to take part in the Battle Royale, which is being overseen by one of their old teachers (Kitano) who quit his job after being stabbed by a student. Issued one weapon (of varying degrees of effectiveness) each they are all forced to try to survive by any means necessary.

Opinions: This hugely controversial Japanese film did a lot to popularise Asian "extreme cinema" in the west. Based on a popular novel by Koushun Takami, which has also been adapted as a "manga" (comic-book) series, the film blends dystopian science-fiction with violent action. The film is most interesting in the way it deals with the friendships, crushes, cliques, gangs, romances, rivalries, and animosities which are part and parcel of high school life being put into a truly extreme and nightmarish situation.
The film handles it's characters well, and effectively shows each individual's reaction to the situation without their personalities getting lost or becoming bland, which is a big risk in action movies. Even the bitter teacher who oversees the Battle Royale, and is very well played by Japanese film legend Takeshi "Beat" Kitano, becomes weirdly sympathetic in a way, even though he does some pretty monsterous things.
The film was extremely controversial due to it's level of violence, and the fact that the characters are almost all teenagers. However, while the film is intensely violent, it's very exaggerated and stylised.
The film is very suspenseful and once it gets going it does not let up. In terms of storytelling it is very economical, with pretty much all the information that the viewers need being delivered by the teacher's introductory lecture to the pupils and the incongrously perky instructional video that he shows them. Throughout the film on-screen titles appear telling us who has died and how many of the kids are left. The film's character development is portrayed through their actions, with occasional flashbacks to their previous life. Far from being the typical action/horror movie faceless drones who are just there to be killed, in this film mostly everyone has a distinct personality and is convincingly hinted as having an existence outside the frame of the movie.
The film's soundtrack strongly features haunting classical music which creates a powerful juxtaposition with the violent images.
Violent, powerful, thought-provoking, suspenseful, moving and frequently funny, this is blistering entertainment and a must see for fans of action movies.
It was followed by a sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem, in 2003.

Aki Maeda and Tatsuya Fujiwara are among those trying to survive Battle Royale

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