Picture the scene: 30 teenagers on an island, armed with weapons exuding varying degrees of menace, wearing neckties that explode upon certain conditions not being met, hackers, explosions, insane teachers. It all sounds so incredibly awes… no! I mean, it sounds awful. Those poor frightened kids and… oh my, what a comment on the dreadful society we live in.
Forget it. Let’s just throw caution to the wind here. If you don’t derive some form of entertainment from the late Kinji Fukasaku’s turn-of-the-millenium dark future flick – be it fear, excitement, even guilt – then you’re either a) dead inside (if so, welcome to the party, don’t grab a drink) or b) actually dead (which, if true, is huge).
It’s an opinion, but the best films tend to be those that just throw you right into the mix immediately. Sometimes you don’t need an explanation. The Japanese authorities have passed the Battle Royale Act for whatever reason, now it’s the turn of this particular class to fight to the death. So what about it? All those Batman origin bits and pieces are cool and all, but we’re all waiting to see him at his peak. Why not start at the peak instead?
Everything is helpfully explained to both petrified school children and audience alike via one of those wonderfully colorful and eerie cutie-pie TV show things the Japanese do so well. That is to say, giggling and bouncing women telling them and us how to use weapons and how to avoid your electronic neck tagging ripping your throat out. Gotta take the rough with the smooth.
How would *you* take this news? It’s got to be fight or flight, in which the spate of early deaths to thin the faceless and immediately disposable supporting cast give examples of which varying degrees of success. There’s even a couple of suicides, just in case the hopelessness of the situation hadn’t been drilled into you enough yet.
Sure enough, mistrust sets in and shaky alliances held together only by the rapidly diminishing bonds of the outside world unravel. Friends turn on friends, former crushes become violent as if love-spurned; it’s a real big mess over there. Thankfully, instead of being a relentless fight to the bitter and bloody end, the entire infrastructure of Battle Royale becomes unstable thanks to the work of some rather able geeks.
It would be remiss of me to describe all of the action. If you’re a first-timer, Battle Royale is a loud, fun and tense film, aided by some real intensity from the film’s cast of frightened and now would-be murderous kids and the erratic sadism of Takeshi Kitano’s Kitano, head instructor of the Battle Royale program.
The film went on to generate more than a little controversy as it hit theaters in Japan. Parliament branded it “crude and tasteless”. The director even encouraged teenagers to sneak in to see the film, such was his aggravation at Japanese censors and their rating of it. With the novel and film portraying 15-year-old characters, and the actors themselves being of similar age, Fukasaku felt the film’s intended audience was being frozen out.
In one of those disappointing bundles of bureaucratic red tape that roll into view, it took 11 years for Battle Royale to be released in the United States or Canada. Still no distribution deal exists in the North American market. It is even banned in Germany for violation of the Criminal Code for ‘glorification of violence’. YEAH OK THEN!
But why the fear? Is it simply the violence? Are we as people being told that we cannot be allowed to watch a film that traverses taboo topics; in this instance legal minors being forced to butcher each other for survival. US test audiences reacted negatively in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings. Perhaps the appetite had been diminished after a large helping of grim reality.