battle royale | kinji fukasaku | tatsuya fujiwara | aki maeda | taro yamamoto | action | drama | sci-fi | sci fi | thriller | japan | takeshi kitano | chiaki kuriyama | sosuke takaoka | takashi tsukamoto | yukihiro kotani | eri ishikawa | sayaka kamiya | takayo mimura
Film: Battle Royale (Batoru rowaiaru)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Kenta Fukasaku
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda and Tarô Yamamoto
This was a film that I got turned on to by a buddy of mine of isn’t even into horror films. He said someone he knew who saw this and really dug it so he got a copy to lend to me. I was shocked by what I saw as I had seen some of the mainstream ghost films from Japan, but never anything like this. It was one that I ended up really digging, but it had been a decade since that first viewing. I had the chance to catch it on the big screen at the theater I’m member at as part of their horror 101 series, so I jumped at the chance. The synopsis is in the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary ‘Battle Royale’ act.
We start this off getting up to speed with the fate of the world. The youths have gotten unruly and society is crumbling. It is decided that this new act would go in where they randomly select a class of students, put them on a deserted island with food, water and weapons. Their goal is to kill each other until there’s only one left. That is where we pick up. A reporter is trying to get close as we’re at the end of the most recent ‘game’. There’s a little girl with braces who smiles and she’s covered in blood.
It then takes us a class where Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) is the teacher. There’s no one there when Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) shows up. On the board is written that they decided to not come to class today. Things take a turn when Kitano is attacked outside of the classroom by Yôshitoki Kuninobu (Yukihiro Kotani) with a knife. The teacher can’t do anything and just leaves. Noriko picks up the knife though.
Our main character is Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), who has had a lot of bad things happen to him. His mother left when he was young and one day he came home to find his father hung himself. Despite this, he’s probably the only one who regularly attends class and is respectful.
Kuninobu comes back to class when asked by Noriko for a class trip. The whole group is on a bus and we see that Noriko seems to have a crush on Shuya. Things take a turn though when he wakes up and the whole bus is asleep. The driver and a woman have gas masks on. Shuya is knocked back out. They all wake up in a classroom to find their former teacher with soldiers. It is revealed that they’ve been selected to participant in the next Battle Royale. Kitano hits and scolds his former students to get them to pay attention to the video that outlines the rules. This involves him killing two of them for not doing as they’re told.
With the introduction out of the way, they learn there are two transfer students joining them. One of Shôgo Kawada (Tarô Yamamoto) and the other Kazuo Kiriiyama (Masanobu Andô), both look quite dangerous and we learn that they’re actually volunteers who have survived previously to make this more interesting.
This game really plays on high school to the extreme level. You have couples and friends who ban together while you have those that are terrified so they’re doing what they can survive. We also see that past traumas cause people to hunt each other and this also is an interesting outlet for students that have some deep seeded issues that they’re now allowed to act upon without consequence. We also get the real life idea that some cannot handle it as well and take their own lives.
With the recap out of the way, the first thing I need to say is that I don’t mean to disarrange The Hunger Games, because I found the subject matter and the overall product to be solid. For Suzanne Collins to claim that she had no idea about this when writing that though is preposterous. If anything, she probably had no idea that the world would come to the point that it did where we could clearly see the truth of the matter as she definitely borrowed heavily from here. This actually is scarier though, as it is much more realistic in its possibilities.
What I mean here is that the way the politics of my country, the United States, are currently going, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Purge or something like this is enacted. Now I will say the common myth is that the current youths are outspoken, but they also seem less violent currently. It is more about getting their words online, at least according to those that oppose them. The society is in a place where if we keep going down the path, things like this would be possible.
Something that impresses me here though is the giant list of characters we have. The class totals to something like 42 with the two transfers. Not everyone really has a defined character but if I’m honest, most of them do or they have a crew so you can distinctly tell who they are. Examples are like Shinji Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) who is into computers and is trying to end this game. Mitsuko Sôma (Ko Shibasaki) who is actually a dark horse favorite character of mine. There’s an interesting back-story that is sad about her and this allows her to be viscous because of it.
There are some issues to this though. An example is that we lose a bit of realism in that Kazuo barely seems like he needs to reload his gun. It also seems to have a bit of comedy mixed in as well. I don’t want to go as far to say that it’s actually funny, just some things that relieve tension. With a runtime just shy of 2 hours, it doesn’t really feel like it though. It does build tension and actually makes me wonder if all of these kids, aside from one are going to kill each other or not. The ending is interesting and actually leaves it open for a sequel that can delve even more into the society of Japan as well as its effects of this ‘game’.
As for the acting, I’ve kind of already alluded to this, but it’s good for the most part. I think some of the comedy comes from these characters if I’m honest. Fujiwara is really good as the lead. I like that despite all of the bad things that’ve happened to him, he’s trying to make the best of the situation. I kind of see a bit of myself in the character and it makes me wonder what I would do if I was in this situation. Kitano is solid as the teacher. I actually feel bad that he wants to help these students, but they’re just too unruly and he’s given up. Maeda is also solid in support to the lead. Yamamoto and Andô add an extra layer here and I really like the creepy performance of Shibasaki. The rest of the cast definitely round out the film for what is needed as well as being distinct.
That takes me to the last thing to cover which would be the effects. I think for the most part, they look pretty real. I’ve seen a couple of films from Japan, where they tend to make it like their anima or manga, where it is over the top. This one does have some blood sprays that you can tell aren’t real, but it didn’t really bother me. Overall I’d definitely say they look good and there’s not much bad CGI to take me out of this. I do think we get some creative deaths and weapons as well. The film is also shot well in my opinion.
Now with that said, this film is actually better for me on this second watch. This has a terrifying concept that could possible happen if we get the right leadership in place. On top of that, we have older generations who think that the youths are ruining things, despite not looking at themselves with some of the ways things were done. I do think that the acting really helps bring these characters to life and making them seem distinct enough despite how large of a cast we have. The pacing is pretty solid overall and I actually worry if despite the partnerships, they could kill until there’s one. It is interesting as well to see the high school bullies and cliques coming into play with people being killed as well. The effects look real enough to add to the realism. The soundtrack didn’t necessarily stand out, but it did fit for what was needed. I would say that overall this is a good film and I did definitely enjoy it even more.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10