Review © Alex Apple, 2002.

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, 109 min. (original version) 117 min. ("Special Edition") starring , "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sousuke Takaoka, Eri Ishikawa, and Yûko Miyamura.

You're Japanese and you're fifteen years old. You're generally getting on OK, you've dealt with the first rush of adolescent hormones just as everyone else does, you're regarded as well-adjusted by your peers and downright polite by just about everyone else. School's OK; your class 3B is quite large and there's a psycho called Nobu who once stabbed class teacher Mr Kitano in the arse. But it's all generally fine, is life. Your friend Nanahara's dad committed suicide, so he's in a home with Nobu; class slut Mitsuko is hated by just about every one in the damn school and Utsumi and her mates have a nasty habit of locking Noriko in the toilets just for being, well, Noriko. But there's idiots everywhere, right?

You're only vaguely aware that a few years ago, the Japanese parliament passed a law because they were 'fearful of the youth', which means one class of your age group must engage in the Battle Royale, a bizarre survivalist exercise on a deserted island which involves blowing away all your classmates. Something to do with both revenge and prevention. Only grown-ups could come up with a concept so bizarre. And only the last survivor gets to go home - and only if the 'game' lasts less than three days - otherwise - oops. No more 3B.

That’s the premise of Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale, and though it sounds as if it should be a movie where all the teenagers kick against the system, say fuck you to the grown-ups and go about drinking and fornicating their way through the last three days of their sorrowful existence, instead they buy into the idea and start seeing through their petty immature rivalries with a gusto that supersedes a tiger presented with a savannah of tasty looking baby gazelles. Helped in no small part, it has to be said, by a couple of wild-eyed transfer students no-one seems to know but who seem to have a fairly solid idea of how to use an AK-47.

In a musty briefing room on the island, the pupils awake to find themselves imprisoned and a silver necklace fastened around their neck. As Mr Kitano (played superbly by Beat Takeshi) explains, 3B have been selected for that year's Battle Royale. The necklaces are a means of co-operation - transgress the rules, stray into a forbidden area or exceed the time limit and - well, let's say that you won’t be able to take part in the Battle Royale from that point on. And, to ram the point home, he demonstrates with poor old Nobu, the class rebel and the one who stabbed him a while back. And via a bizarrely perky video film, the rules are further demonstrated to 3B.

I'm not going to go too deeply into the plot, as it's difficult to discuss without giving away important plot twists. Let's say though that Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), Nobu's best friend, teams up with Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) in a game of survival. Neither are hugely enamoured by the idea of having to wipe out their friends, although it has to be said that when the time comes, Nanahara is able to handle himself quite adequately.

And there lies the intriguing dilemma of this film: is the survival instinct stronger than loyalty to your friends? Some classmates are much keener than others in cold-blooded slaughter of their comrades - class tart Mitsuko (Kou Shibasaki) in particular takes great glee in chasing her female rivals like Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama) and, implied in the original film but made clearer in the director's cut, sleeping with guys and then wiping them out, black widow spider-style. Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando) is the cat amongst the pigeons, one of the mysterious transfer students who the organisers use to ensure that there is killing; Kiriyama loves to kill and is doing the Battle Royale for fun. Similarly, the other transfer student Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) is out for revenge for his girlfriend Keiko.

Perhaps oddly, Nanahara and Noriko team up with Kawada, as Nanahara claims his only priority is to protect Noriko and not to kill anyone for any other reason. Meanwhile, the slaughter continues, Mitsuko and Kiriyama doing more than their fair share of the cleaning up.

Battle Royale is one of those strange beasts, an action film which works on several different levels. Most superficially, the viewer can treat it almost as a gameshow; who is going to "win", and how? It has to be said, though, that this is the least satisfying option; there's little in the way of suspense, there's few big action set-pieces and the ending, as it is, is as vague and non-conclusive as many of the other more esoteric films you'll find detailed on this site. There is much that will interest the common-or-garden gore freak, in that this is one of the downright bloodiest movies you'll find this side of Ichi the Killer.

But then again, you could read this film as a powerful rites of passage, coming of age movie in which the power of friendship and loyalty overcomes adverse circumstances and prevails. Even amongst the early deaths there is a strong sense of fellowship - more than a few commit suicide together, refusing to bow to the will of The Man and/or not having the strength of will to see through what it is that is required of them. And it's to Fukusaku's credit that he doesn't portray the suicides as negative or desperate acts, but as deeds of nobility and contemplation.

Or, it's a punk rock movie, in that youth is sticking two fingers up at authority, outwardly complying with what they are told to do but inwardly plotting to bring down the system from within. I shan't say more on this point as I don't want to give any plot spoilers.

And, finally, it's a political movie, asking what is happening in society right now so that in the near future our legislators might have to bring in an extreme piece of governance like this, in order to take random revenge on the group in society which it deems most responsible for society's downfall, and how such a piece of legislation would be greeted by those who it most directly affects. Interestingly, the opposition that the Battle Royale Act has created is hinted at in the scene in the briefing room where the bloodied corpse of 3B's regular class teacher is brought out to show the teenagers, because he, it is said, was most strongly against the selection of his class for the Battle Royale. It will be interesting to see if this angle is exploited more in the (inevitable) sequel which is currently in production.

In the current climate of hysteria about teenage gun control (after the massacres in Columbine and in Germany) this was always going to be a politically contentious movie, and even now there is no sign of an imminent US release. In Japan, Fukusaku was most upset that the movie was given the equivalent of an R rating, meaning that those who are of a similar age to the movie's protagonists are unable to see it. This is a very violent movie, by definition, and Fukusaku was not backward in displaying the violence to its full effect. But if he had not, then Battle Royale would be a much less effective movie than it is. It is shocking, it is thought-provoking, and it is also downright entertaining. In that respect, it's no different from, say, Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. But the very fact it's fifteen year olds killing each other makes it difficult for some censors and classification boards to stomach, and it is to the credit of the British BBFC that it was passed uncut. But I feel Battle Royale is a little confused in what it wants to say and fudges a lot of issues, perhaps deliberately. On the one hand, it is a full-blooded action movie, but it does have pretensions of having more substance, which are sometimes infuriatingly left unanswered. But then in that respect, the film is no different to other movies like Uzumaki or Audition which are very open-ended and invite deeper interpretation.

(filmographic note: the DVD is available in 3 different English subtitled versions. a) an R0 PAL disc with a poor transfer and burned-on subtitles b) an R0 NTSC version with optional subs and a better transfer c) a two-disc R0 PAL "Special Edition" box set version with extra scenes, optional subs, the good transfer and a disc of extras)

Sadly, Kinji Fukusaku died on the 12th January 2003, having been taken to hospital following complications of cancer some weeks earlier, during the filming of Battle Royale II.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 9/10
Sex: 0/10 - these are 9th graders, remember!
Violence: 20/10
Explosions: countless
Shock Factor: 8/10
Makes You Think, Doesn't It?: Yes, it certainly does
Litres of tomato ketchup: a couple of ketchup factories' worth
***Highly Recommended!***

Discuss this movie here at the Snowblood Apple Forums!

Battle Royale Wallpapers

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2002

Snowblood Apple Filmographies:
Kinji Fukasaku
"Beat" Takeshi Kitano
Tatsuya Fujiwara
Aki Maeda
Taro Yamamoto
Masanobu Ando
Chiaki Kuriyama
Kou Shibasaki
Yuko Miyamura

Links
http://www.battleroyaleonline.com/ is Bawpsherep's totally excellent, comprehensive fan site - everything you could ask for, and much much more besides
The official English language site for the movie is here: http://www.battleroyalethemovie.com/
Battle Royale 2 is incoming!!! Find out all about BR1 and BR2 here: http://tjfweb.com/br2/
http://battleroyalefilm.com/ - Mike Jonas's enormous site, chock full of information regarding both the original and the upcoming sequel, and much much more besides
Make yourself a BR Collar with Mike Jonas' recipe: http://www.geocities.com/themikejonas/collars.html
Dan Wang's excellent Battle Station fansite is here: http://brstation.tjfweb.com/
http://www.angelfire.com/film/battle_royale0/ - Nakiko Akane's great BR fanfiction-dedicated site...
http://halfbakered.blogspot.com/2003_11_23_halfbakered_archive.html#107008306310977551 - about halfway down the page is Mike Hollihan's very thorough and excellent 4000-word analysis of the movie, highly recommended
http://membres.lycos.fr/puremoon/sommaire_entier.htm - an enormous fansite dedicated to Masanobu Ando, for all you Kiriyama fans out there - a really spectacular site!!! [French only]
http://www.eyecandy-garden.com/mycos/br.htm - the world of Battle Royale cosplay...
http://www.angelicstar.net/cosplay/battleroyale.html
- ... and even more creative cosplay genius here ...
http://www.angelicstar.net/katsubr.html
- ... and here too!
http://reve.sans.fin.free.fr/BattleRoyale/
- another dedicated site [French only]
http://www.suisen.sakura.ne.jp/~kyo/battle/
- and another [Japanese only]
http://chiaki-kuriyama.zanlius.com - fansite dedicated to Chiaki Kuriyama, with lots of pictures, information and all kinds of goodies
http://www.battleroyale-movie.tk/ - a brand new fansite by Mark Evans


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