Battle Royale / Batoru Rowaiaru
d. Kinji Fukasaku / Japan / 2000 / 122 mins
Viewed at: A3.03 @ UEA (Norwich, UK)
Battle Royale seems to be one of those films that will remain perpetually misunderstood. There is no shortage of people willing to read it as little more than a worthless, brutally violent exploitation flick, but it is simply so much more than that.
Full to the brim with acute social commentary, Kinji Fukasaku’s film cuts right to the bone of a key predicament facing Japanese society at the end of the century: the near-total collapse of order within its education system, fuelled in part by the ever increasing pressure placed on the heads of students brought about by an common attitude which insists that young people either succeed at school, or drop out of society all together.
Stylistically, Battle Royale possesses something of a twisted reality TV gameshow aesthetic, a concept that is enhanced even more when you consider that the man in charge of the ‘game’ is none other than Japan’s favourite gameshow madman Beat Takeshi (aka internationally renowned arthouse auteur, Takeshi Kitano).
Of course, the reality TV element is made all the more explicit once Battle Royale‘s central themes mutate into the darkly comic, somewhat underrated US indie mockumentary Series 7: The Contenders (2001), in which US citizens are selected by lottery for a similarly brutal, ‘last man standing’ fight to the death (and which was, perhaps unsuprisingly, retitled Series 7: The Battle Royal for Japanese audiences).
There are also shades of Lord of the Flies here, in the struggle for survival amongst a group of youths. In the concept of a perpetual pursuit which can only end in death, Battle Royale sits in dialogue with of a whole slew of earlier films including Peter Watkin’s Punishment Park (1973), Ozploitation schlocker Turkey Shoot (1982) and 2019-set Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner The Running Man (1987).
On a purely personal level, Battle Royale contains perhaps my favourite Kitano moment of all time, when he exudes the creepiest faux ‘joy’ in response to the BR Act training video.
And while we’re talking filmic links, it should be noted that, way before Quentin Tarantino squeezed Uma Thurman into Bruce Lee’s yellow ‘Game of Death‘ jumpsuit in Kill Bill, Battle Royale seemed to pay a brief tribute of its own:
I imagine that knife would look pretty cool in 3D. Of course, I wont have to wait long to find out because it was very recently announced that Toei Studios are planning to retrofit Battle Royale for a 3D theatrical re-release. Ultra-violence in 3D? Makes a change from blue hippies, balloon houses and flying kiddie dragons, I suppose.
Enough talk, here’s a trailer: