Genre: Drama, Action/Adventure
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda
Synopsis: A class of teenagers are abducted and forced to take part in a military exercise where they must kill each other on a deserted island until only one is left…..so kind of like the hipster Hunger Games.
I remember when I was in high school, this was the cult film that everyone had to watch. I had managed to get my hands on a copy of the film and it ultimately got passed around the class like a soggy biscuit at Eton. At the time this film was released, it was shocking, harrowing, polarising, but unquestionably brilliant. After re-watching the film, I’ve come to the conclusion that it still is. It’s not brilliant solely because of its action, or its beauty, or its twisted sense humour. Battle Royale is brilliant because it manages to combine all these and turn a story about basic characters senselessly killing one another into a moving coming of age tale.
I think that the thing that gives Battle Royale its power is its characters. In total, there are about 43 that appear throughout the course of the movie. Creating a movie with that number of characters is a daunting task but the makers Battle Royale rose to the challenge admirably. Of course, many of the characters are killed off quickly but even characters that appear for one extended scene only are given their own unique personalities and quirks and histories. This is best seen with the character of Chigusa. In one scene the film establishes that she is an athlete, proud, fearless, and that she will kick the ass (and knife the balls) of anyone who attempts to rape her. The audience barely knows her and yet we end up respecting and liking her immensely, which makes her exit from the film all the more tragic and beautiful.
Of course there are other characters that are wonderful. Takeshi Kitano’s character adds depth and a much needed adult perspective. I have the biggest crush on Hiroki and, when commenting on the characters, it’s hard not to give attention to Mitsuko Souma, the school hussy. In short, the film presents a myriad of complex characters and it makes you feel for them even though not a lot time is dedicated to them. One character in particular only gets a couple of minutes of screen time but she is easily one of the best in the whole film.
One of the other brilliant things about this film is that it encourages its audience to engage their imagination and ponder about what they would do if they were forced to enter into a fight to the death. What would you do? Would you hide or would you play the game? What sort of weapon would you want to get? A gun or something like a tracking device that allows you to avoid the competition? Very few films manage to draw in their audiences in such a way right off the bat but Battle Royale manages to do it without even trying. Maybe it’s because the general premise of the film is so fucked up or maybe the film appeals to some innate competitive survival instinct in every human. Whatever the reason, this is one film you will not stop watching halfway through. You will force yourself to watch it all the way to the end.
In recent years some people have debated whether The Hunger Games is a rip off of Battle Royale. For the record, I am going to say that I don’t think The Hunger Games is a rip off. Although I think the two share similarities, I think it would be fair to say that The Hunger Games has its own distinct features and themes. While Battle Royale is about growing up and leaving behind childhood friends, The Hunger Games is (I think) more of commentary on wealth inequality and reality television and it is enjoyable in its own way. Don’t get me wrong though, I think Battle Royale is 1000 times better and you would be a fool for thinking otherwise.
- Wonderful characters that are developed in a very small amount of time.
- Surprisingly good amount of humour.
- Great soundtrack.
- The lighthouse shoot out is one of the weirdest and most spectacularly perverse scenes in the history of film.
- Kazuo Kiriyama is the only underdeveloped character and it’s a shame because in the novel his background is fascinating.
I have no doubt that Battle Royale will continue to be a cult favourite for decades to come. It has all the ingredients needed to ensure its survival as a classic. If you haven’t seen it yet then hop to it. It’s on Netflix so there is no excuse.