Despite not being very original, “Battle Royale” proves to be something even better — a killer of a movie. Not only are there more than 40+ students sent to an island to be killed off (at the hands of each other, no less), but also the adults are around to urge them on. You see, there’s a time limit of 3 days, and there are “dangerous parts” of the island that have explosive mines for those who likes to camp out. (Online game players will know what “camp out” means.)
What’s most surprising about “Battle Royale” isn’t the amount of blood and brutal wholesale slaughter being done by 16 and 17 year olds (or at least characters in that age range), but the nonchalant way the whole thing is shot by director Kinji Fukasaku. The deaths aren’t elaborate, but rather so simple that the effect on the viewer is jarring. Kids are shooting each other in the face with arrows, stabbing each other with knives, and gunning each other down with machineguns. It’s what happened at Columbine High School times 100. (The comparison to Columbine, by the way, is why “Battle Royale” has no prayers of ever being shown in the U.S. in any mainstream form.)
Despite the disturbing visuals (especially to American audiences), “Battle Royale” manages to be a pretty standard teen flick. Once you get past the blood and guts, it’s basically a rehash of every cliché inherent in Teen Movies. There’s the two friends who doesn’t realize they’re perfect for each other; the loner who scares away the others at first, but then gets their trust when he proves to be a good guy; the individual cliques that go everywhere together; the nerd who has always harbored unrequited love for the hot girl; the “angry” teacher who is actually compassionate when given a chance; the list goes on.
That’s not to say “Battle Royale” is lacking. Let me preface by saying that I know a little bit about Japanese society. Mind you, I’m not Japanese. But Japan, in my outsider’s POV, is a strange island nation. It’s filled with contradictions and lacks what can be called a “national identity.” In Japan, you are allowed to show everything of a woman in movies and print but not her pubic hair. Yes, I kid you not. Needless to say, Sharon Stone’s infamous interrogation beaver shot in “Basic Instincts” caused quite a sensation in Japan, where she remains a horny Japanese man’s fantasy to this day.
It’s true that the movie shows teenagers in a very bad light, albeit when compared to the adults forcing them to do this, they don’t come off quite as bad. But there’s no getting around that they are slaughtering each other left and right. Whatever you want to say about the film’s allegory to contemporary Japanese society, or the world at large, it’s a bit hard to get over the fact that kids are killing each other.
That said, “Battle Royale” is a worthwhile movie if you’ve never seen a Japanese film, or have some preconceived notion of what constitutes Asian movies. Also, there is no kung fu in the movie at all. The film and its characters are as much based on reality as any movie I’ve seen, although there were some unrealistic moments that should have been trimmed or cut out completely.
“Battle Royale” may seem shocking at first sight, but to be honest, it’s not nearly as gratuitous in its violence than the bulk of “mainstream” action movies out there today. Of course, those films had adults skewering each other with swords, so maybe that’s the difference.
Kinji Fukasaku (director) / Kenta Fukasaku (screenplay), Koshun Takami (novel)
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara …. Shuya
Aki Maeda …. Noriko
Taro Yamamoto …. Kawada