Looks like I’m back and posting from vacation. Sorry for the delay. Honestly, I was feeling a little burned out. Everything in my life was a bit stressful, even horror movies, which is funny since they’re my stress relief. So I needed a brief break. I’m on vacation now, at my mom’s house. My mom has Netflix streaming so I’ve been seeing which movies they have that I’ve always wanted to see. The first one is the 2000 Japanese thriller Battle Royale.
First, let me make something clear. I really liked Battle Royale and look forward to reading the book and the manga. I also really liked The Hunger Games. I read the book back in 2008, after literally stumbling over a copy on Mercer St. in NYC. This was way back before anyone had even heard of the series. As it became more popular, I noticed some horror fans saying, “Oh, it’s just a Battle Royale rip-off!” My argument would be that people are allowed to have the same idea if the execution is different. I don’t even consider The Hunger Games movie to be in the same genre since they aimed for a PG-13 rating. In the end, it’s a very circular argument. You can say The Hunger Games ripped off Battle Royale which ripped off The Long Walk which ripped off The Most Dangerous Game and they all ripped off Theseus and the minotaur. There, now that that’s out of the way…
The story is set in a future Japan. Economic collapse has led to insecurity within Japan. Juvenile crime is skyrocketing and students are walking out of schools. The government passes the Battle Royale Act, which allows them to take a class of middle school kids, take them someplace isolated, and force them to fight to the death. The last one standing is the winner. They’re all wearing neck trackers which explode upon command or if they try to disable them.
The movie follows Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) as he tries to protect his best friend’s crush, Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda). Not only does he have to fight fellow students who’ve embraced the games, particularly Ôki (Gouki Nishimura), Mitsuko (Kou Shibusaki), and Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama, you know her as Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill), who have become quite lethal, but murderous “transfer students” Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando.)
The students react to their situation in different ways. None of them have heard of the Battle Royale Act, this isn’t something they’ve ever been prepared for. Some commit suicide and absolutely refuse to participate. Some become lethal, like the aforementioned Ôki, Mitsuko, and Chigusa.
Some work together to try to resist the urge to fight but are eventually undone by their paranoia.
The movie’s effects are cartoonish and over-the-top. There’s lots of blood. If you liked Suicide Club then I think you’ll like Battle Royale. What I liked was how video-game-like the movie was. The title font is reminiscent of an old Mario Bros. title. There’s also a video that the students watch with a perky lady explaining the rules, it was like a video game cut-scene.
The movie was based on a novel by Koushan Takami and directed by Kinji Fukasaku, who actually based the themes of the film on experiences he had fighting for Japan during World War Two. I think that his words speak better than mine.
In July 1945, we were caught up in artillery fire. Up until then, the attacks had been air raids and you had a chance of escaping from those. But with artillery, there was no way out. It was impossible to run or hide from the shells that rained down. We survived by diving for cover under our friends.
After the attacks, my class had to dispose of the corpses. It was the first time in my life I’d seen so many dead bodies. As I lifted severed arms and legs, I had a fundamental awakening … everything we’d been taught in school about how Japan was fighting the war to win world peace, was a pack of lies. Adults could not be trusted.
The emotions I experienced then–an irrational hatred for the unseen forces that drove us into those circumstances, a poisonous hostility towards adults, and a gentle sentimentality for my friends–were a starting point for everything since. This is why, when I hear reports about recent outbreaks of teenage violence and crimes, I cannot easily judge or dismiss them.
This is the point of departure for all my films. Lots of people die in my films. They die terrible deaths. But I make them this way because I don’t believe anyone would ever love or trust the films I make, any other way.
BATTLE ROYALE, my 60th film, returns irrevocably to my own adolescence. I had a great deal of fun working with the 42 teenagers making this film, even though it recalled my own teenage battleground. Source
I think this movie has a very powerful message that, as a thirty-year-old, I can relate to. I’m too young to remember Vietnam, yet my country, the U.S.A., has been involved in various secret wars since the decade I was born. I was in college when 9/11 happened and saw it used as a justification for war in Iraq. I’m certainly not a 9/11 truther, but there comes a time when you have to ask, who do you trust? Certainly not those in charge, since they’re the ones creating wars that people of my generation and social-class will be fighting. Because affluent men and women don’t go to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan. So even though this movie was based on experiences that are eighty-years-old, I can still relate to it.
This is also one of the reasons I love horror movies, it can tell stories that are relevant and still entertaining. While this movie is a serious film, it’s still massively enjoyable to watch. As a viewer, I found myself disturbed as I got caught up in the action when Kitano-sensei (Bito Takashi) would count down the dead and how many more were left to go.
Now I just can’t wait to read the book.