Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Battle Royale Takes Detention to a Whole New Level

Battle Royale

For centuries there has been a divide between youth culture and adult culture. Now more than ever it seems that gap has become larger. There is a genuine lack of respect that youth of today have for adults that was not as prevalent twenty years ago. Many kids are growing up not only disillusioned by the world around them but also distrusting of the adults who run it. It is this growing epidemic that director Kinji Fukasaku explores in his film Battle Royale.

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.

7 comments:

  1. I thought this was a brilliant film!

    I see what you mean about the fact that the films narrative follows to many characters, but do deal satisfactorily with all their back-stories would have taken hours, but to ignore them I think would of made the film far less interesting, I think it achieved the right balance.
    Great review.

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  2. Loved this! In no way is it a perfect movie but it's such an entertaining and novel movie for US audiences that it justifies its cult status. It's also great that they cast actual kids instead of 20 somethings like they would do in Hollywood.

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  3. Agree with you and disagree with Jack - the immense quantity of students was my main gripe with the film as well. It worked just fine in the book - though even then there were several extraneous characters - but for the film, the class size should have been cut to 24 or so. Would have allowed for more time for the characters we are meant to care about and/or hate.

    To kind of answer your question - according to the book, yes, the students are aware of the Act - it's just that with the massive number of schools, they never worry too much about it. It's just something in the back of their minds as a possibility.

    I read the book first, so it's no surprise I enjoy that more, but it was a good, pretty faithful adaptation. They significantly changed the "teacher" (not really his role, but I know who you mean) in a way that bothered me at first (he was written tremendously in the book), but I came around. It's a very different take on the character, but great in its own way.

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  4. @Jack – I would not say that they needed to be ignored completely but definitely cut down. As Fletch pointed out, if you cut the numbers of students featured then you can really delve into the characters more. From what I hear, the sequel has even more characters to follow.

    @Castor – I agree with you about the casting, it was refreshing to see actors who were actually in that age group of their characters. One thing that struck me was the fact that this is one of the few foreign films that Hollywood would never remake. Studios would be too afraid of the fallout from the associations against the depiction of youth/school violence in cinema.

    @Flecth – Thanks for clarifying that. It makes a lot more sense now. I may have to see if I can get a copy of the book to see what other stuff the film left out. Have you seen the sequel yet? I am interesting in hearing whether or not it is worth watching.

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  5. Haha. Yeah, definitely one of things you gotta see just to say you saw it. Was kind of underwhelmed by it when I revisited it and read through the book last year, but still, what a trip.

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  6. @Aiden – I think I will be placing the book on my Christmas list this year. Really intrigued by what I am hearing about it.

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  7. Sorry for the late reply. No, I haven't seen the sequel. Let me know if you watch it if it's any good...

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