Adapted from the novel of the same name by Kenta Fukasaku, Battle Royale is set in a society where the division between adults and youth has reached a breaking point. Tired of the fact that they are no longer shown any respect, the adults instill the Battle Royale Act to deal the delinquent and increasingly violent youth. The act allows the government to unruly youth and place them in a kill or be killed competition. The participants are each given a map, minimal food, and one weapon. Each weapon is different and the damage they inflict varies from non-existent to deadly. The last remaining survivor will be allowed to re-enter society. Unfortunately for Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) and their entire ninth grade class, they have just been selected to play the game.
One thing that is never clearly conveyed in the film is whether or not the students actually know of the Battle Royale Act? The majority of the class seems stunned upon first hearing that they must take part in the game. Several students question if the whole thing is some sort of sick joke. Yet there is one character who willing signs up to compete in the game. Also, another character, who has played the game before, makes reference to the fact that there are always some people who sign up for the fun of it. This implies that the event has been well publicized for quite some time.
A minor squabble I had with the film is that it follows too many characters that are not really that important in the grand scheme of things. While I loved the fact that Kinji Fukasaku kept an onscreen death count when someone parishes, there is not enough character back story to make 40 deaths significant. The most we get is a lot characters professing love and/or longtime crushes to each other moments before they die. Although this touching the first time it occurs, after awhile the constant professions of love gets tedious.
Despite these moments, is a rather entertaining film whose concept is far more disturbing than the film itself. One of the things I really enjoyed about this film is how the high school dynamics are translated onto the battle field. The social cliques are still present as the popular, but mean, girls are the most dangerous of all; the nerds work together to build a bomb, etc. Another great aspect of Battle Royale is how the weapons assigned often fit the student’s personalities. I also liked how Fukasaku makes a point to show how every weapon, even if it is a pot lid, has its purpose in the battle.
While the majority of the performances by the young cast are decent, the real highlight of the film is Takeshi Kitano who plays the teacher of the class, Kitano. Takeshi Kitano provides a rare mix of comedy and heartbreak that you would not expect from this type of film. One minute he is exuberantly providing updates of the students who have died and the next he somberly laments on his non-existent relationship with his family. The scenes between Kitano and Maeda are some of the best in the entire film.
Battle Royale may not quite live up to the massive hype that surrounds the film, yet it is still very satisfying. I would definitely say that is a film people should at least see once. The action is fast paced and the concept is riveting enough to overcome some of the films shortcomings.