Thomas Thompson

Battle Royale

1st May 2004
Battle Royale Poster reviewer: Thomas Thompson
rating: 5 out of 5
directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
written by: Kenta Fukasaku and Koushun Takami (novel)
starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki
genre: Drama Thriller Action Horror
released: 14th September 2001

A controversial film internationally this, for depicting school kids pitted against each other on a secluded island. Based on a book written by Koushun Takami, the film is a social commentary on its home country of Japan, and also a well acted, emotional piece of comedic drama. There's a fair bit of gore, violence, violent gore, and gory violence to round out the package too.

The setting is of an alternate Japan, where things are a little bit different, and 'the game' is the Governments' strongest hold on its society. The film follows one class of students who, from setting off for a school trip, wake up to find themselves contestants in the Battle Royale program. As the game gets underway the film continues to follow each character through their actions, reactions, emotional response, and tactical addressing of the situation at hand. Each student is handed a battle pack, containing a random weapon, which ranges from the explosive to the practical to the useless, as well as 3 days worth of supplies and the necessary orienteering tools. The BR Act video is a particular highlight at this point in the film, and one of many darkly comic moments throughout.

With believably pre-developed relationships being torn apart, and others being made, some being questioned, this is a film that offers much more than its infamy might suggest. Character is a key word when describing Battle Royale, as it is the development of such which is arguably the film's strongest point. As 'real' characters are developed within a pretty outlandish premise its a credit to the acting, direction and script that the results are so spectacular. This is very much a character oriented film. Many of the students have their background's visited, a past event often providing the motivation for how the student 'plays' the game; their history being visually recognisable as the catalyst in their key decisions.

The film centres around 2 main characters' journey through the 3 day struggle, focusing in particular depth on their own developments, as they encounter (and team up with) fellow students, each with their own agenda, some more subtle than others. Several more characters share the spotlight, some with immense depth, others remain suitably unexplored in their motivations and history.

There are a number of exceptional, and very memorable, scenes, as characters fall at the hands of unlikely suspects, in a variety of methods, and in a variety of settings. Close quarter gunfights are rivalled by hand to hand combat using battle axes and tazers, amidst abandoned homes and woodland. Violence seemingly breaks out of nowhere. With a three day deadline in place, where the collars explode on all if there remains more than one pulse at the end, and the contestants being forced to keep moving by a system of ‘zones’ that would see the same result applied to the individual if not adhered to, anxieties are high, and trust is questioned. And to add extra unrest to the proceedings two 'transfer' students are introduced, being the two unaccounted wild cards in the pack.

"Beat" Takeshi plays the role of Kitano, the appointed head of the program, and also the teacher of the class from a previous year, by a stroke of luck, apparently. The only Adult the film follows, he has his own relationships with members of the class, and likewise his own agenda within the game.

Battle Royale is a film that will satisfy many film viewers, on a number of different levels. It caters to a number of genres, and is a prime example of any of them. Its a brilliant film, with great direction, unnoticeable computer generated SFX, an immersing story, and a startling depth. The gore, while at times very much at the forefront of the screen, isn't too over the top, and doesn't detract at all from the film's immersion. A worthy purchase, the film will provide numerous viewings. Japanese Language, English Subtitles.