Review of 'Battle Royale'

battle-royale.jpg In a dystopian near-future Japan, the population have grown to distrust their youth so have passed legislation for a regular “Battle Royale” (BR). Forty-two ninth-grade students are picked from a random high school to complete in a three-day survival course held on a secluded island where they are forced to battle to the death. If there is more than one survivor at the end of the three days then all are killed. Each student is tagged with an electronic neck collar used to monitor them but can also be exploded remotely then given a bag with a randomly selected weapon (some good, others not so much), a map and some food then let loose onto the island. Every six hours they are given an update on those that have died but also on what regions of the island are “danger zones” at specific times (where their collars will explode if they are present). Throughout the contest we are given running updates at the bottom of the screen about the deaths and how many remain alive…

The film starts with the results of the previous BR and a close up on the winner - A disturbingly smiling young girl covered in blood. Then, on a school outing, this year's selected BR class is gassed and wake to find themselves in a class room where their former teacher, Kitano (Takeshi Kitano), educates them on the BR programme. The violent reaction of the students is quickly suppressed when the teacher kills one student with a knife to the forehead and another is used to demonstrate the explosive nature of their neck collars. The students quickly see that there are several strangers in their midst that turn out to have volunteered for this year's games and, as expected, are psychopathic in the extreme. There are different ways the students react, some lying low, others seek out a non-violent end to the game, others try to hack the game and others just get into the spirit of things and go on a bloody rampage. Throughout the story we follow Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara), his grilfriend Noriko (Aki Maeda) and a previous BR player Kawada (Tarô Yamamoto) who are trying to find a way off the island using Kawada's previous experience. Of course, Shuya and Noriko have been given the most benign of the weapons: A pot lid and binoculars.

Who will survive Battle Royale?

I found this film oddly compelling. It's frenetic yet casual violence and extremely disturbing premise somehow made me want to watch to see how everything turns out. It is full of surprises and keeps you guessing until the very end. The effects are ropey, the acting is not great, but it is the story that is the star here. In the west we find the deep-rooted fear of youth quite odd so it makes the scenes of violence perpetrated by the children in school uniforms killing each other in myriad different ways uncomfortable and shocking but this is not so much the case in Japan where this is a very real fear. I found it all very disturbing.

I watched this film originally a number of years ago on late night television. I find it no less compelling seeing it again today. I would suggest this is a thinking man's horror movie but definitely not for those who are easily shocked.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2016-10-02

Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku

Studio: AM Associates

Year: 2000

Length: 114 minutes

Genre: Action/Adventure