Sunday, December 8, 2013
Battle Royale: The Hunger Games Precursor and Its Superior.
Movie Review: Battle Royale
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Reviewed: 8 December 2013
jamesintexas rating-- ***1/2
A daring and well-executed nightmare of a film, Battle Royale shows a 9th grade Japanese classroom, gassed and abducted on their class vacation and forced into a bizarre, macabre game on a deserted island surrounded by military. One of their teachers tells them that each will be given one weapon, and that the 42 of them must eliminate each other until only one remains. The variation on "The Most Dangerous Game" and The Running Man involves the destruction of the social construct of these teenagers and their varied reactions to these constraints. The creators of BR, Battle Royale, wish to keep society in check (unemployment is extremely high; students are potentially volatile and in danger of rebelling), and Fukasaku's camera follows the horror on these young people's faces as the game begins. Some take to the game right away, dispatching each other with sickening violence. Others form pacts, searching for a way to break the system. The weapons vary from bag to bag; one might end up with a gun or a pot lid. The island is divided up into zones which are announced as dangerous during certain time periods, forcing constant movement. The players wear necklaces with bombs in them, enabling them to be tracked. Generally, we follow Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a young man haunted by the suicide of his own father (seen through eye-popping flashbacks) and Nakagawa (Aki Maeda), his young classmate with a crush on him. But Fukasaku's strength is allowing the audience to track multiple characters as well as delve into multiple backstories with flashbacks, title cards of dialogue, and vicious, bloody fights. How does one respond to imminent death? The film frequently breaks to announce who has died and how many remain. The tension is quite remarkable.
A word about the violence. Battle Royale is an unapologetically violent film with no qualms about showing teenagers dispatching each other in gruesome ways. It makes The Hunger Games look prudish with its shaky camera and oblique angles and dramatic falls to the ground. Weapons stick out of characters' heads, blood erupts like geysers (the film must be a partial inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's Kill-Bill series), and the film challenges and deepens as it goes on. I do not completely understand the machinations of the ending (it requires a second viewing), but the film is infinitely interesting. Released in 2001 to heavy criticism (and banned by the Japanese government, announces some proud title cards), the film does not shock in 2013 the same way, but it offers a powerful jolt as a disturbing story told in a creative way.