Battle Royale review by Matt Fuerst


So, someone in Japan read Lord of the Flies. Lord of the Flies, written in 1954 by William Golding, tells the story of a group of boys that are stranded on an island and eventually devolve into barbarians. At the time, I imagine that the reaction to the novel was quite stunning. The boys, starting out as young members of British society, eventually end up doing some rather nasty things to each other in the name of survival. It would seem as though writers Kenta Fukasaku and Koshun Takami (writer of the novel) and director Kinji Kukusaku took the premise and ratcheted it up several notches. Mixing in ideas of the Internet, Military, Government, Schooling, Teen Angst, Teen Love and Unlimited Ammunition, Battle Royale is rather distasteful in it's premise.

The timeline isn't clear, but the movie is set in the present, or very near future. The government, apparently forgetting what adolescence was like, has grown tired with the restlessness of the teenaged generation. The elders view the teenagers as having no respect for their wisdom, and hate their lack of interest in the ways of the past. The government decides to pass the BR Act, or Battle Royale Act. This Act states that on regular intervals (it would appear like once a year) a group of students are randomly chosen to have their lives diverted onto a secluded, secure island. There, the group has three days in which to completely kill each other off. Only one of the children may leave the island alive. At the end of three days, if more than one person is alive, the collars around the students necks will activate, and their heads will go boom. The students are each given a backpack, each of which contains a random weapon. Some get a real weapon (guns, knives) while some get, well, crap (garbage can lid, binoculars). The kids are released onto the island and the fun goes down.

Now if you find the idea behind this movie reprehensible, well, join the club. This isn't a movie acted by 18 or 22 year olds acting like they are teenagers. No, it's very obvious that these kids are real teenagers and are honestly going through the motions of killing each other off. While children have appeared in movies, well since the silents, and have done some pretty vicious stuff on screen, this is taking things to a new level. I would say it's a pretty safe bet that this is one import that Dreamworks isn't going to look to pick up, no matter how well The Ring does.

The story progresses, and in spite of the understandable reservations of most of the children, as soon as the bullets start to fly it quickly becomes a kill or be killed situation. On 6 hour intervals, the students teacher Kitano, (getting much glee out of the whole process) announces the deaths from the previous 6 hours and the new danger zones, areas of the island that will become uninhabitable within the next hours. The main protagonists in the film are Nanahara, Nakagawa and Kawada. Kawada is what the Kitano the teacher calls a "transfer student". He wasn't a member of the class and just magically appeared when the students arrived on the island. In spite of not knowing to trust him, Nanahara and Nakagawa decide to take a chance and team up with Kawada early on. Kawada reveals that he won the Battle Royale three years previous, though he had to make some horrendous decisions to obtain victory. Kawada promises he knows a way off the island without having to kill.

It's obvious by now that I think the idea behind the movie offends the sophisticated part of my brain, but I have to admit the content of the movie is very pleasing. Photographed very competently, the pacing of the movie is what really sells it. There is never a dull moment or questioning where things are headed. We are always moving forward with the students as they struggle to survive. I happened to watch The Running Man the previous evening and it's very easy to draw comparisons amongst the two. Not only do they share a lot of technology and general disregard for human life, but the pacing of both films are similar. You will never rest of your laurels in either film, they are constantly entertaining. The Running Man, while similar, was a much easier sell since it was set in the future, so it's easier for us to look at that film and disregard it as "something that we as a civilized society would never let happen". Not coincidentally, Battle Royale is set in the here and now and is smacking us in the face. It seems to be proposing that our society is at this point right here today, and what are we going to do about it?

The bad news is that the film isn't readily available here in the States. If you want to take it in, you are going to have to work a little harder than if you want to watch 8 Mile (then again, why would you want to watch that?). There is an English language DVD, but it is not a Region 1 release, it is intended for UK audiences. Those of you with a region free DVD player and a real desire to see Battle Royale could import it, but if you are that hard up for Battle Royale you probably have already done it. So, that option out the window, what else do we have? Well, you could pick yourself up a bootleg VHS copy of the film. Being noncommittal, this may be how I managed to acquire the film from a fellow Jackass Critic. Another option would be to purchase the VideoCD (VCD) of it. Not many people know about VideoCD's, but most all DVD players can play VideoCD's, which use an earlier version of the MPEG video compression routine that DVD's use. Check your DVD manual, and if you can play VideoCD's, you are in business. VideoCD's are all region free, and are far less expensive than comparable DVD's. Look at various retailers, the Battle Royale VideoCD seems to run $8 or $9 bucks. The bad news is that many VideoCD retailers are based in Asia, so in spite of the break in price on the merchandise, keep an eye on the shipping charges.

7 out of 10 Jackasses
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