Movie Review: Battle Royale (Japanese)

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Battle RoyaleBased on the novel of the same name by Kenta Fukusaku, Battle Royale shook the world when it first appeared on screen in 2000. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku, the movie raised quite a furor in Japan at its time of release and caused many eyebrows to be raised in film circles. However despite the gore fest that the movie undoubtedly is, its theme was finally endorsed by critics for the disturbing insight it led into the workings of power, and the critique of cruel and authoritarian governing systems that it engaged with. Set in the near future, the premise of the story is set by the prologue title card, which reads: “At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence, and fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act—AKA: The BR Act…” With juvenile delinquency on the rise and the increasing discomfiture of the government, the Battle Royale Act or the BR Act serves to create the means of keeping the youth in check and frightening them into submission. The Act allows for a randomly selected class of students to be selected each year to participate in the Battle Royale, a three day programme in which the students are whisked off to a remote isolated area where they are fenced in, given basic survival packaging and weapons and told to kill each other off. Only one person, the last one alive at the end of three days, may be allowed to go home safe, and if there are more than one left at the end of three days the explosive collars they have been forced to wear will detonate, killing them all. The movie begins with a Ninth Grade class ragging their teacher Takeshi Kitano. One of the students slashes him with a knife but is protected from resulting prosecution by one of the protagonists Noriko. Kitano resigns soon after in frustration. A year later while on a school trip the class finds itself gassed and kidnapped only to find they have been selected for the military sponsored Battle Royale programme and Kitano is the one behind it all. Now if any of them wants to get out alive, they must ensure that all their classmates are dead. Armed with an arbitrary weapon contained in their safety kit, which could range from a paper fan to a tin shield to a submachine gun, they are now set lose in an island where suddenly age old classmates have become a threat and friendships hold no value. We see how even as different people react differently, either by joining wholeheartedly in the blood fest, refusing to be party to it, hiding away or rebelling against the ones responsible for it, ultimately almost all fall victim to a game constructed by a power much larger than any one of them. The excessive gore, violence and bloodshed hence gets sidelined by the deep emotional and psychological trauma of the experience and it’s the latter which ends up being the more horrifying aspect of the film. Apparently influenced by both his own experiences when his class was drafted to help out during World War II and the highly competitive educational and work environment stifling the youth, the movie simply shows us in an extreme form problems which already exist today and solutions which governing bodies already recourse too albeit in a less palpable manner. Although often compared to Lord of the Flies, the movie’s premise is different in that this is the controlled aware adult world knowingly, consciously and deliberately manipulating the hapless youth into engaging in gory violence. The violence is never shown to be a natural impulse on the part of the youth in ungoverned situations, though it is shown to be an easy way out in times of desperation. This notion of organized planned state authorized barbaric toying with helpless citizens has been oft used in fiction, most notably in the recent bestselling book The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which has often been compared to Battle Royale by critics. Indeed as far as dystopian Sci-fi or indeed cult movies go, Battle Royale is a must watch for every true connoisseur of films. My Rating: 4.5/5 ]]>

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