GEISHA OF GORE REVIEW
BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
By Colleen Wanglund
Imagine, if you will, being a high school student on a bus for a class trip, only to wake up on a deserted island and told you now had to kill your fellow students. That is the premise of the 2000 film BATTLE ROYALE. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, BATTLE ROYALE is based on a1999 novel of the same name by Koushun Takami. On March 20th of this year the film will finally be released on DVD/Blu-ray in North America….YAY! A quick bit of trivia—Kinji Fukasaku directed the Japanese scenes in the WWII movie TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970).
“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act…”
BATTLE ROYALE takes place in an alternate-reality Japan. Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is a high school student struggling to maintain some semblance of a normal life after his father’s suicide. It is the end of the school year and the class of 40 students is returning from a field trip. At some point the students are gassed and the bus is diverted to an evacuated island for the purpose of participating in the annual “game.” The class is awakened by their former teacher Kitano (played by the wonderfully quirky “Beat” Takeshi Kitano), surrounded by soldiers and informed of their situation. They have also been fitted with collars that will explode if the kids try to remove them….or if more than one has survived by the end of the game. The students are shown an orientation video that looks more like an MTV video, complete with a cute pop star-like young woman. The students have three days to kill or be killed and only one student is allowed to leave the island alive. Some of the kids rebel or refuse to participate, but they are dealt with immediately. In one instance they are provided with a demonstration of the collar’s effectiveness (ironically it is used on a student who had stabbed Kitano a year before, causing him to retire).
Along with two additional participants, Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando), the students are sent out at sixty second intervals with their personal possessions and a pack containing basic supplies and one other item. That additional item is either an obvious weapon or something that may prove to be a weapon. The first night sees many deaths among the kids, including a few suicides. Every six hours Kitano broadcasts a list of the dead over the island’s PA system, as well as the times and locations of “death zones”—areas that will cause the students’ collars to detonate if they are found to be in the zones. The collars also serve as tracking devices and they stop sending a signal when a teen wearing one dies.
Shuya has promised to protect Noriko (Aki Maeda) and they manage to successfully stay alive by hiding and staying out the way of the others. The two run into Kawada, who helps them out by giving them shelter in an abandoned house and tending to Noriko’s wounds. They spend a good amount of time talking and Kawada tells the teens that he is, in fact a survivor from a previous year’s battle. His wish was to survive again but get revenge on those who caused the death of the girl he loved. The house is eventually attacked and the three are separated, with Shuya being badly wounded. Shuya is taken to a lighthouse where a group of girls is hiding, but fear and mistrust get the better of them.
While all of this is going on, we are given glimpses of Mistsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaki), a student who proves to be one of the most dangerous players in the game, as is with Kiriyama. Mitsuko is the popular girl with the exclusive clique among the class but here on the island she has become a cold assassin, willing to kill anyone to get off the island. It is eventually revealed that Kiriyama volunteered for the battle because he thought it would be fun. He is as ruthless as Mitsuko. Meanwhile another student, Shinji Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) and two of his friends have a plan to hack into the military’s computers and blow up their compound on the island, effectively starting a revolution. Part of Mimura’s plan is successful, but not all. Shuya, Noriko and Kawada arrive at Mimura’s hiding spot too late to help them. Now they are on their own again, determined to leave the island together. Who ultimately will win the BATTLE ROYALE?
Okay, the first thing I love about this movie is that it stars Beat Takeshi. The man is amazing. He’s a director, actor, poet, television personality, screen writer, comedian, singer, painter and author. His movies are offbeat and Takeshi has developed quite a cult following both in and outside of Japan. He is a professor and owns his own talent agency and production company. The man is a dynamo. His biggest commercial success was his portrayal of the blind swordsman in ZATOICHI (2003).
….Sorry, back to the movie…..
BATTLE ROYALE, a dystopian parallel universe that condones teens committing violence against each other. It’s also a social commentary on how the younger generation seems to be turning its back on tradition. They no longer have the respect for their elders that previous generations had. We see this in the phone calls between Kitano and his daughter, although this is probably found most blatantly in the character Mitsuko. She is most assuredly self-centered and that is ultimately what makes her so dangerous. While we are given only glimpses into the teens’ characters prior to the battle, it is clear that Mitsuko is a bully. When she does finally meet her match, it is at the hands of someone who is just like her.
That said, the strongest characters in the film are the teens who do care about others. Shuya and Noriko manage to survive until the third day. They have taken care of each other and Shuya would probably die rather than allow that to happen to Noriko. So the message isn’t all bad. There is hope for redemption for this generation of teens.
When BATTLE ROYALE opened in Japan, it was a box office success, despite being given a rarely used rating of R15 (no one under the age of 15 admitted). While the graphic violence against teens seems exploitative, there is clearly a message of disillusionment with society in general, as well as a fear of the destruction of civil order. After all, it isn’t only that the kids are forced to kill each other off in a “SURVIVOR-with-weapons” scenario. It is the fact that adults distrust and dislike the teens so much that they force them into the battle for their very lives. They are given the ultimate punishment for defying their elders. BATTLE ROYALE is Darwinism at its dirtiest….only the most murderous will survive. It can also be considered an allegory on the competitiveness in Japan—both in school and in the workforce. At some point every society begins to fracture. BATTLE ROYALE shows us the extreme.
BATTLE ROYALE is, in my opinion, a good movie. The screenplay hits some of the points made in the book, although in a more exploitative way. There is quite a bit of violence and the SFX guys did a fantastic job but, considering the material, it is far from gratuitous. The young cast does a great job, especially Tatsuya Fujiwara as Shuya (who also starred in the DEATH NOTE films), and the main characters are fairly relatable. BATTLE ROYALE created a stir in Japan’s Parliament due to its violence but it is a memorable film for anyone who has seen it, and I highly recommend it.
© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund