“So today’s lesson is, you kill each other off till there’s only one left. Nothing’s against the rules”.
The tamest Japanese movies are still pretty extreme compared to their western counterparts. They’re not afraid of high concepts and not afraid to go big, broad and blustery with their execution. And when they decide to go extreme by their own standards, shit is gonna get crazy. So when I heard about the concept of Battle Royale, I knew I was in for something special.
“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At 15% unemployment, 10 million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted the schools. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act”. So reads the opening titles of Battle Royale. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I don’t see how the BR Act helps counteract things like unemployment, but if you’re looking for logical answers to questions like that, you’re not in the right frame of mind to enjoy the insanity of this movie.
The BR Act means that each year, as students reach the end of grade nine, the last compulsory year of study, one class out of tens of thousands is randomly chosen to take part in Battle Royale. Battle Royale consists of the class being taken to a deserted island where they will all fight to the death until only one survives. If, after two days, there is no winner, everyone left will die via an exploding collar. Each receiving a random weapon as the battle begins, some score sweet gear, like guns and crossbows, while the not so lucky end up with random gear, like a cooking pot’s lid.
Beginning with 44 students competing, the key characters are highlighted almost immediately, so you know who to go for and who to hate. On Team Goodies, we have Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and his girlfriend Noriko (Aki Maeda). While they’re determined to survive together, Battle Royale makes sure we know they’re not the first couple to have tried to go it together, and that every other attempt has lead to one having to kill the other.
Team Baddies consists of ruthless class mate Mitsuko (Kou Shibasaki), who seems as obsessed with her fashion and appearance as she is with killing a shit load of her class mates. And Kazuo (Masanobu Ando), introduced as a mysterious transfer student who quickly shows himself to be much more adept at the game than anyone else.
Battle Royale is ultra violent, ultra cheesy, ultra goofy and ultra everything. And it’s all of these things in all of the best ways possible. And for some reason, it seems to me like it could only have been done this well as a Japanese movie. Even if an American studio had the balls to go this violent and dark with it, I just don’t think any western director or actors would be able to embrace the bat shit craziness that this movie needed.
There was a sequel made three years later, and as much as I loved the original, I don’t know if I want not see it’s follow up. I assume it had more money and resources so they could go a bit bigger and crazier, but Battle Royale seems to have the perfect level of everything, I think anything more might spoil the concept. I also think the ending of this one is kind of perfect, and am scared of how it’s negated to justify the second.