Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku (screenplay), Koushun Takami (novel)
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Chiaki Kuriyama, and Reiko Kataoka
The age old question “What would you do to stay alive?” has been explored to death. A unique take on an old adage is always welcome, and Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale hoped to deliver that. Does it succeed? Kind of.
In a futuristic vision of Japan, the children are too unruly. So, a classroom of 40 children is selected at random each year to partake in a brutal three day free-for-all on an island until only one remains. If more than one remains, the collars placed around their necks will detonate. Then the survivor returns to the country, striking fear into the others with their stories of the horror.
This is a film that could be analyzed to death by philosophers and historians as to what exactly it means in the context of Japanese history. Is it an allegory to Japan’s involvement in World War II? Is it a statement about individualism in a country that is notoriously solidified and stubborn in combat? It’s both, and they kind of mesh, which is why the film could be looked at so deeply.
However, in the technical and story-telling senses Battle Royale doesn’t quite stack up. The violence is sometimes brutally and stunningly played out, but there are far too many characters to keep track of and the movie tries to focus on all of them. For a movie about individualism, it doesn’t really have an individual to follow.
There are intriguing side characters, like the demented Mitsuko (Reiko Kataoka) who slices and shoots her way through her scenes with such vicious intensity that you want more of it. Also adding to the interest is Chiaki Kuriyama (Kill Bill’s iron-ball wielding Go-Go) as a castrating cutey who is much deadlier than she seems.
Instead of focusing on cool characters like her though, the script leans kind of towards a young couple, Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda). Though you pity them for not being given cool weapons, you don’t really care about them because there are 38 more interesting characters running around and killing each other.
As a whole, this movie is an underwhelming allegory with more philosophical musing than there is gore. I only wish that Fukasaku would’ve spent more time adapting and shrinking the book for celluloid instead of thinking of ways to bathe the frame in blood.