Without sounding like a fan boy the following is Fact. Battle Royale is undoubtedly the most important film of the new century, and quite simply, the best film of the last ten years. All those Oscar winners, modern classics etc are put to shame when placed beside this. Fukasaku’s last film, banned in the US, Battle Royale, based on Takami Koushun’s novel, inspired by others such as the Running Man, A Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies, is an intense experience and is the One film Everyone should see. The story is infamous now, 42 school students are placed on an island and forced to kill each other until one remains. If there is more than 1 survivor at the end, they are all killed. It is the Government’s way of controlling the rebellious nature of Japanese kids. Each year one class is chosen at random, and taken off to an unknown destination. The winner returns. Not only a satire on TV, entertainment, education, politics, Japan, America, morality, mortality, it is more importantly a story about trust, loss of innocence, love and growing up. The final line of the movie? ‘What would your parents say now?’
The film begins with chaotic flashes of the new regime, of the BR act. We see the media frenzy it causes, the manic smile of a previous winner, a young girl holding a bloody doll’s head. We get a flashback of a school, the pupils do not come, the teacher played by the great Takeshi Kitano waits. He leaves and is stabbed by a pupil, Nobu. Another pupil Noriko helps Kitano, but also hides the knife. Then we flash forward. The class is on a bus, going on a school trip. The pupils get up to usual antics, shouting, laughing, taking photos, sharing cookies, and generally having a good time. They are 14. Soon they sleep. When they wake they are on the floor of a room. They have metal bracelets around their necks. Scared, they are shocked as Kitano appears. There are soldiers everywhere. The kids try to be tough, but their new teacher has been killed- he was against the Act. Kitano explains what is happening, showing that he is the boss by killing two pupils. 40 left. An absurd video tells the kids the rules, and the game begins. The pupils leave individually, each getting a bag with food, water, map, compass and a weapon. Weapons range from guns to bombs to bin lids. There are cameras everywhere, if any rules are broken the bracelets are activated and the kid’s head explodes. As each kid leaves, they begin to plan what to do-play the game, wait for their friends, hide, say their goodbyes and run. It becomes clear that the only way off the island is too win. They all leave, and the game begins.
The range of characters here is awesome, never before have we had such a real sense of teenage school relationships. They are horny, some mistrusting, some too trusting, some clever, some reluctant to play, some bloodthirsty. Every performance is breathtaking, considering the actors are 14 or 15, and that this was for many their first role. Kitano is sinister, but we can see things from his point of view, his daughter constantly calling, showing him no respect, his relationship with Noriko. Noriko is the kind girl, quiet but strong. Shuya Nanahara vows to protect her as his best friend Nobu loved her, but is not here to do it himself. Mitsuko is an outsider, with a tragic and tormented past she plays the game. Chigusa is an athlete, in love with Hiroki, who is in love with Kayoko, but none of them have told each other their feelings. Shinji Mimura is a hacker whose uncle was a freedom fighter. Throw into the mix two wild-cards, exchange students Kazuo and Kawada and the game takes many twists. We see the choices they make-some could never play the game and kill themselves, often in heartbreakingly real circumstances. Others wait, hoping that everyone else will be killed, others gleefully join in, but we can understand each of their reasons and soon feel hatred towards the system which has forced this upon them.
The violence and content caused the ban, but the truth is that the film is not very bloody or exploitative. The deaths vary, some are darkly funny, some very moving, others we believe are deserving. We grow to know the main characters, hoping they can find a way out, but know this is unlikely. The ending of the game is a shock, but there are still a few funny moments afterwards. Certain scenes will wrench your heart, as we watch best friends killing each other, and we are forced into thinking what we would do. After Columbine this may seem sick, but the film is anything but, placing the blame squarely on the older generation. The kids have their faults, but these are not worth being killed for. The lighthouse scene is one of the most tragic ever filmed, and it all seems so inevitable. The final scene involving Hiroki and Kayoko is moving and will make you understand that as life is short we should not let fear get in our way. Perhaps the most moving part is the basketball victory scene, we see Mitsuko begin to cheer, but slowly moves away, looking back, as she knows she doesn’t fit in.
The music adds immensely to the film, orchestra blaring, and the reference to Springsteen, about not giving up, will stay with you even if you don’t know the song. Filmed beautifully- The island looks idyllic, even though it is where they die. Thematically it has great depth, but it would take another 1000 words to cover the basics.
This should be mentioned alongside Seven Samurai, Vertigo, Star Wars and The Godfather, as one of the best films of all time. This Double Disc Special Edition has some great extras, particularly the making-of documentaries, and the added and extended scenes.
As always, please share your views on the film and the review? What would you think of a Hollywood remake? What would you do if you found yourself on an island where you had to kill to live?