Looking Back: Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale is a 2000 film based on a 1999 book by Koushan Takami. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, Battle Royale tells the tale of a dystopian future where children run amok and rebel against the authorities. After 800,000 students walk out of class, the Japanese Government implement the Battle Royale Act in which a class is selected at random, taken to a remote island and is forced to kill each other until one victor remains. If after three days, more than one person lives, their necklaces will explode and kill them all. They are given a variety of weaponry and as parts of the island become inhabitable (they will set of the necklaces) the students are forced into a showdown of blood and gore. All over seen by their former teacher Kitano.

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Battle Royale is an exhilarating movie that was swept up by the Western world. Battle Royale is full of terrific acting from our young cast and even better characters that you can pick over. There is the hero and heroine Shuya and Noriko, who are star crossed lovers in No Man’s Land. The villainous teacher Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) who gleefully narrates the days violence to the Island and takes pleasure in it (he was stabbed by one of the students) There are two exchange students, Kawada (who was forced to play again,) and Kiriyama, a brilliantly mute killing machine who like the sport. They all push the action forward and haunt your mind long after the movie has ended. And that’s just first and secondary characters; the school room is filled with characters on the brink. The bullied who becomes the hunter, the couples who commit suicide, the geek who freaks out and panics and the friends who seem fine until they become suspicious of one another. Each role is thought through and detailed as we never forget that this movie isn’t about death, it is about life and experiences that come to a head in an impossible circumstance.

Even before Battle Royale had finished filming, it caused an uproar in Japan. Much like the British uproar that A Clockwork Orange would inspire a string of copy-cat gangs, the Japanese government believed that portraying teenagers (particularly as the actors were as young as 15 when filmed) being violent would cause teenagers to be violent. Instantly forgetting that the film is actually about what would happen if teenagers continue to rebel, test audiences and the Japanese Parliament abhorred the movie claiming that it was “mindless gratuitous violence” similar to Sam Peckinpah’s work.

I can’t sit here and say that the violence isn’t graphic and there is a lot of death of a youthful persuasion. But what I can say is that too much focus when reviewing this film is on the violence. While Fukasaku includes violence every other minute, it isn’t unnecessary. In fact, it is completely justified to portray this dystopian world. Unlike The Hunger Games which will willingly have the “children killing each other” premise then feel that the violence would be too much, Battle Royale uses its violence as a stark and chilling future. The bloodshed is meant to jar because it is children killing children. And lest we forget that these aren’t random reaped children from different districts, these are friends who have grown up with each other, who love each other and are now forced to kill each other for survival. That difference makes the movie a hundred times more terrifying. As the class divides, each death becomes more brutal and not because of gore but because the teenagers are become more vindictive and are forced to murder for survival. It is a frightening portrayal of humanity as our most innocent are pushed to make the most difficult decisions.

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As Fukasaku implored teenagers to “sneak in” to his movie to watch, Battle Royale is an important movie to cinema lovers. The film is a tender balance; it is humanity on the brink of destruction. Whilst there may be a few comedy moments here, Battle Royale never forgets the horror. And while it did strum up controversy upon release, it is a look at what could happen if our government loses all control. You see that chill you get, it is your human side and Battle Royale uses violence in the way it is meant to;

It provokes.

Battle Royale comes to Ritzy Cinema for One Night Only 
Saturday 22nd April! 

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