Anime Reporter rolls the clock back ever so slightly to review Battle Royale, the 2000 film which spawned controversy in Japan for its violent content and macabre plot.
Battle Royale was originally based on the 1999 novel of the same name by Koushun Takami. Set in the early days of the 21st century, B.R. tells the story of a dystopian Japan, ruined by a crippled economy and facing the most violent and undisciplined generation of teenagers in memory. It was for this reason, in a time of the utmost desperation that the B.R. Act was put into effect. Every year, a class of reprobates is chosen and whisked away to an abandoned island. Here, the unsuspecting teens are fitted with explosive collars and a few meagre provisions as well as some randomly allocated tools/weapons (though a few receive nothing more helpful than a paper fan). After this, they’re sent out into the wild for three days at the end of which their collars will explode unless all but one of them is dead.
If something that sounds likes ‘Shmunger Shmames’ has come to mind from reading thus far, then you’re not alone. The Hunger Games novels published eight years after Battle Royale were suspected by some of having lifted the premise from Takami’s novel. While there are certainly similarities in terms of premise, the Battle Royale film is a very different creature to the Hunger Games.
Forty teenagers wake up, not knowing where they are or what’s about to happen to them. Then, their names are called and they’re sent into the wild to hunt down their friends and classmates or die in the process. Forty of the students all hail from the same class and many are friends with each other. Two extra students are among them, unknown entities, violent and aggressive who seem to know much more than the others about the game they’re about to play.
The reality of their situation soon sets in and students begin dropping like flies. Some are mown down while still trying to come to terms with it all. Others fall to despair and end things themselves. Luckily, we have a courageous and honourable protagonist to follow for the most part. Shuya Nanahara, aged fifteen (played by Tatsuya Fujiwara from the Death Note and Kaiji films). Shuya is basically a good kid who’s sick of seeing the people he loves die. While Shuya receives the majority of the focus, we’re given plenty of back stories for several other students. We get to see bullies turn into serial killers while the timid huddle together, not knowing how they can possibly survive. The characters are surprisingly well fleshed out given the straightforward murder-fest that the film is at its core. Flashbacks give perspective to characters during key moments, making many of the deaths much more meaningful as a result. Full credit must go to the cast who manage to convey the panic, determinations and bloodlust for each of their characters without a slip.
More than being an entertaining flick about teenagers bloodily murdering each other, (though it certainly is that), Battle Royale shines best when it’s focusing on the pure psychological strain of pitting best friends and school rivals against each other in a contest where your chances of winning are one in forty two, and that’s only if you’re more than willing to take a few lives along the way. The fear and utter desperation of this idea is made very real and it’s so easy to get swept away in all the tension and panic.
Battle Royale went on to spawn a manga series based on the novel and a sequel to the film. The film is available with English subtitles on DVD and despite its violent content and 18 age rating, it shouldn’t be dismissed as a run of the mill gore flick. This is as great a piece of character drama as it is a slasher.
You should see this movie.
91% – “Phenomenal!” – Battle Royale was the Hunger Games before there was a Hunger Games, the Hunger Games you might not want to let your kids see.