Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, the movie opens with a strong prologue –‘At the dawn of the millennium, the nation (of Japan) collapsed. At 15% unemployment, 10 million were out of work. 80,000 students boycotted school. Adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, aka the Battle Royale (BR) Act.’ This Act enforces that each year, a randomly chosen high school class must participate in a 3-day cruel game of survival on an abandoned island where everyone has to fight each other to death for one ultimate winner. Tracked by metal devices, each student is given a bag of food, water and an item (ranging from a weapon to a tool) plus a map, compass and flashlight to equip themselves, especially against the danger of ever-changing zones which can activate the bomb in their collar. If a winner is not determined on the 3rd day, all collars will explode to conclude the game, leaving no survivors to escape the isle or cause possible mutiny.
A brilliant take on the concept presented in the novel on which this film is based, Director Kinji also looks to his personal experience as a 15-year-old working in a munitions factory during World War II. School classes were made to help out with weaponries and at times of accidents, when kids couldn’t escape, they dove under each other for cover and whoever survived had to dispose the bodies of the deceased. This imprinted deeply on Kinji’s mind and he captured it unapologetically in this movie, by heightening our instinct/hunger for survival, paranoia of the human mind, the brutality of battle and the fine line between life and death. Furthermore, like The Truman Show and Big Brother, there’s an element of commentary on our increasingly monitored society and worse, the provision of reality TV show ‘games’ like Survivor for entertainment, who’s to know what it will develop into in the future?
Hence the most unnerving and possibly sickening part this film we find is the animated/light-hearted manner in which the female host briefs the students about Battle Royale in the Orientation video, as if it’s a kids program or one of those typical Happy-Japanese-Talk show. The use of classical music is even more disturbing like it is some honorary occasion to be celebrated for or a privilege to partake in such a spectacular game, every time the PA announces new players dead or a change in the rules. These arrangements effectively illustrates the notion that we are all pawns in the game designed by those in power, and the excellent camera work depicts the inner conflicts people face in unleashing their animal nature for survival versus their human nature to care and sacrifice for their fellow being.
Though 99% of the cast are young and fresh-faced teenagers, their ability to portray different kinds of personalities and delivering emotionally raw performance are the highlights of this movie. From the complex Shogo, persistent Shuya and sweet Noriko, to the dangerous Kazuo, feisty Mitsuko and paranoid Yuko, all the characters work off each other, especially with their teacher/battle overseer Kitano. There is a sense of unity in this class, even as Battle Royale is tearing each one of them apart.
We highly recommend this Japanese cult classic (Director’s Cut), out already in Australia on Blu Ray and DVD with sensational extras on how this movie was made including The Making of Battle Royale, Documentary, Audition & Rehearsal Footage, Special Effects Comparison, Behind The Scenes, Filming on Set etc. Quentin Taratino also lists this film as his favorite since he began directing in 1992! It may be bloody, it may be violent but if you have a great eye for great films, you know it’s more than that!
Oh and did we mention, there is a ridiculous amount of resemblance between the upcoming The Hunger Games and Battle Royale? According to experts, “there are enough possible sources for the plot line that the two authors might well have hit on the same basic setup independently.” Or so they say!!!
A must have DVD available now in Australia thanks to Madman!