Friday, January 18, 2008

Battle Royale, a film by Kinji Fukasaku (2000)

I can't believe I watched this; I am having trouble believing that people think it is a great film (it is rated more highly on IMDB than A Quiet American). Surely, it is an appalling movie? The storyline is just grotesque. A friend described the battle royale phrase as a wrestling term, in which there is a round-robin fight to the death. That is the basic idea underpinning the movie.

Japanese society has turned bad, the adults blame the kids. Since the adults have the power, they pass a law, the Millennial Education Act. Every year, a "lucky" high school class wins the chance for a battle royale. The kids are taken to a remote island, issued with a random weapon and told to fight it out. The weapons range from a machine gun through rifles and handguns to, um, a potlid and binoculars. They have three days. Every few hours, a list of the dead will be called out. To make sure they play the game, each has been fitted with an explosive necklace: if there is no winner at the end of the three days, all necklaces will be detonated.
Their teacher, a dour sort of fellow with a grudge, gives them an example when one pupil misbehaves. There's also a video, with an incongruously perky girl setting out the rules for the massacre, although the teacher makes it simple: "So today's lesson is, you kill each other off till there's only one left. Nothing's against the rules".

Not all of the kids respond kindly to this: some suicide, some devise complicated plots to break out. Some seem to thrive on the rules of the game. One fellow has chosen to be involved: he turns out to be the best armed.

Friendships splinter. Others are strengthened.
Some reveal long secret loves - these scenes were particularly sweet. But, as the rules stipulate, almost everyone dies: generally with lots of blood, and after a huge number of bullets have been fired into them.

The weird thing was that after knowing the premise of the movie, it didn't seem to trouble me, watching all these innocent kids (and, yeah, they seemed pretty likable, gave no reason to think that they were a menace to society) killing each other. A few of the killings were a bit more shocking than others, but ultimately I'd say I quite liked the movie, think the fellow was very bold for making it.



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