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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Battle Royale

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By Craig R.

Some things are so horrific that it's hard to look away: Car accidents, train wrecks, Pauly Shore movies. Such is the case with Battle Royale. That isn't because it's a bad film. On the contrary, it's an excellent film. The problem isn't that it has a lot of graphic violence. The problem is that it involves children, specifically teenagers.

Originally released in 2000, Battle Royale was not released in the US until 2011. This is because it couldn't find a distributor, due to fears of legal actions resulting from the content. In the meantime, The Hunger Games books and movie were released. The similarities are so striking that fans have accused Suzanne Collins of stealing the idea for the story.

Set in a collapsing Japan (10% unemployment, teens going on strike by refusing to go to school), the government establishes The BR Program, where an entire Junior High class is randomly selected to participate in a fight to the death. As in The Hunger Games, this is supposedly to keep the population under control through instilling fear.

Not this kind
In the film, a class of forty students is gassed while on a bus trip, and wake up in a briefing room on a deserted island. They are greeted by heavily-armed soldiers, and their former teacher Kitano (played by the great Takeshi Kitano), who quit after being stabbed by one of them. At this point, he explains their situation: their class has been randomly selected to participate in that year's Battle Royale as a result of the BR Act, which was passed after 800,000 students walked out of school. They have three days to kill each other, until only one of them remains. If that does not happen, the explosive collars they are wearing will detonate. They will also happen to participants who resist the rules, or enter "death zones", which will be announced every twelve hours.  It is never mentioned, but the only prize for surviving is just that.


At this point, during their orientation, Kitano mercilessly kills a couple students who cause trouble during the orientation, to make his points. The students are then sent out one-by-one.  Each of them is given a bag of food and water, map of the island, compass, and randomly issued a weapon. The weapons are anything as lethal as a gun or knife, or seemingly useless as a pot lid or paper fan.

Within hours, twelve of them die, some by suicide. Two "exchange students" had been added to the group, one of whom is quite vicious. Presumably, I don't recall it being discussed much; the two were probably added in the event that many of the students are reluctant to kill. As The Hunger Games did later, all of the day's deaths are announced during each evening's announcements.

As the story unfolds, some of the students form alliances, and seek out others, in order to protect them, and express unrequited love.Unfortunately, this leads to multiple deaths, at one time. The stress also causes them to reveal their true character, with one even using the situation to settle old scores.

If there's an intended message to this film, I didn't see it, though I've read that it was to condemn television violence. That may be so, but I don't recall any mention that the events were televised. I got the sense that while the portrayal of the violence, while graphic, and unflinching, wasn't done for the sake of glorifying it. I expected that, because films of this type from Japan often seem to do otherwise.

If there was a message, in my opinion, it was that stress will reveal someone's true character, and can strengthen love and friendship, but that may just be me looking for something good. If there is a redeeming value, it is, as mentioned earlier, that alliances are formed, where the members do not turn on each other, and that the actions of some are motivated by love.

Although this is a well-made film, I hesitate to recommend it. I'll let you make up your minds about deciding to watch it. I almost didn't write this review, because the violence was a little unsettling, but felt that I should at least warn anyone who is considering viewing this.

I give this film three out of five pot lids, because of my reservations. It was made in Japan, and is available in Netflix Instant. The language is Japanese, with subtitles, and is Not Rated. Run time is 1 hour, 54 minutes.

Update 9/20/13: It is available on Netflix Instant and Amazon Instant. However, I found the whole thing on YouTube.

Note: I would normally post the trailer here, but I felt that it was a little too graphic. If you are interested in this film, I recommend that you watch it first.

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