Published on September 4th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Battle Royale 
Summary: This Japanese cult classic makes 'The Hunger Games' look like a Nickelodeon game show, but pales in comparison of presentation. This film ends up losing its message and sensationalizing the campy violence presented.
NR | 113 min.
Director: Kinji Fukasaku | Screenplay: Kenta Fukasaku
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Kou Shibasaki
Country: Japan | Distribution: Toei Company
Damn…Asia has given me some of the most screwed up cinematic experiences of my life.
From the notorious Guinea Pig series to Takashi Miike’s Audition to Park Chan-wook‘s Oldboy (one of my all-time favorite films), the world’s largest continent has produced some movies that simply eat at you. After all the buzz I had heard over the years concerning one of Japan’s modern classics, Battle Royale, I expected a similar picture but ended up disappointed.
This picture, directed by Kinji Fukasaku, is based on a 1999 novel of the same name by Koushun Takami. Highly controversial in every medium its been adapted to, Battle Royale pulls no punches in delivering its Darwinian message.
Its plot sees Japan’s authoritarian government enacting an annual program where they select a random class of eighth graders, put them on an island and make them kill one another until only one remains. The film’s explanation of this “Battle Royale” program’s point is flimsy at best, but it’s better if you just go along for the sadistic ride. Each of the 42 students is given a survival pack, a weapon, and a metal collar that will explode if there is no sole survivor after the allotted time limit. One-by-one the kids slay their classmates in a myriad of ways until the movie ends on a note of hope.
Our central characters are two sweethearts named Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda), a pair that isn’t interested in bloodshed, despite the stakes of the game. Their relationship provides the only human element of this brutal film, they rely on each other to stay alive, while attempting to avoid conflict on the small island. As far as I’m concerned though, the stars of Battle Royale are its villains.
Kazuo Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando) is the most cold-blooded kid on the island and also the only bastard sick enough to volunteer to play it. He is basically depicted as a soulless killer, racking up the highest body count of anyone in the game. Battle Royale also features two femme fatales who are a joy to watch on screen — Takako Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama of Kill Bill Vol. 1 fame) and Mitsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaka). Chigusa is a beautiful, graceful athlete who seems to be more lover than fighter but won’t hesitate to defend herself when threatened by a male classmate. Meanwhile, Mitsuko is the type of chick every man fears, she uses sex to get close to her victims before viciously cutting them down. From an acting standpoint, I have to give credit to the large cast of teenagers in this movie because they carry the whole thing.
Battle Royale is a perfect example of carnivalesque cinema. Like the aforementioned Kill Bill, this movie is full of bloodshed from start to finish…but unlike that movie, the characters who die here don’t deserve their fate. I feel like this picture is trying to say something about how violent we are as a people but any message Battle Royale tries to convey is muddied by the glamorized violence it depicts. Basically, the film’s plot is about survival — and the lengths we will go for it. These (mostly) innocent kids are thrown together and told to kill their classmates and friends in order to save themselves, and most of them oblige with no questions asked.
Fukasaku didn’t make a sophisticated movie here, it’s pretty much a blood-soaked gift to anyone who loves to watch nonstop death and destruction for two hours. American author Suzanne Collins took a ton of internet criticism when she released The Hunger Games because of its similarities to Battle Royale…and when I say similarities, I mean both works are almost identical — but the latter is much less hardcore. Despite the similarity of their plots, this film and Gary Ross’s 2012 adaptation of The Hunger Games couldn’t be more different in execution.
There is no glitz and glamor involved in Battle Royale, the game is not broadcast on television and is largely kept a secret whereas Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become global celebrities following their selection for the annual Hunger Games. Also, the stakes are much more clear in The Hunger Games and it was just a more fun film to watch. So call me a cultureless jerk-off but in terms of movie adaptations, I’ll take The Hunger Games over Battle Royale any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
If you love blood, gore, and murderous mayhem, check this flick out but I found it to be a bore. Aside from a few great scenes (the lighthouse sequence is fantastic), Battle Royale had a difficult time holding my attention.