So today’s lesson is, you kill each other off.
BATTLE ROYALE (2000) was the last film directed by Kinji Fukasaku–and his most successful. The controversial film based on the novel of the same name by Koushun Takami; both are an influence on the modern film culture internationally, being both praised and condemned. One of Japan’s most famous and highest grossing films, although brutally violent and shocking, Battle Royale is an unforgettable film experience that does not fail to impress.
Each year under the BR Act, many ninth grade classes from different schools across Japan are enrolled in a national lottery. The winning class will then be transported to an isolated island where the students are supplied with food, water, and weapons to last three days. Their mission is to kill each other, regardless of friendships or romantic interests, until there is a sole survivor. The purpose of the BR Act is to deter youth violence and truancy in a struggling Japanese economy.
The performances in the film are extraordinarily authentic and in the case of characters such as Kazuo Kiryama (Masanobu Ando)–the silent but deadly killer–and Mitsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaki)–the mentally unstable fille fatale, absolutely terrifying. The fact that a few of the actors and actresses had little to no experience in the entertainment industry prior is incredible and is an example of their natural talent. Every moment of Battle Royale is a nail-biting experience; there are moments where the audience can relax and enjoy the humorous banter between friends or the strange habits of teacher Kitano (Takeshi Kitano)–but are quickly brought back to the horrors of the game the students are playing.
Protagonists Nanahara Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara), Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda), and Shogo Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) are highly likable characters with Kawada being the coolest of the trio. Many of the “hero” characters generate feelings of sympathy and optimism; the audience will most likely have the desire to support and cheer for these traits. There are moments in the film where sympathetic characters die or become entangled in paranoia that would prove to be their downfall. The trio sends a powerful message: could there be civility even in horrific times?
Battle Royale‘s setting is fitting for a test of survival; an isolated island with no inhabitants. The teenagers are assigned different weapons and are must rely solely on instinct to fight through the most challenging three days of their lives. The events agitated suppressed feelings of jealousy and hatred to boil over into a fierce and extreme battle territory.
Both the film and the novel have similarities and differences; in the graphic novel, Japan is a totalitarian state composed of other Far East nations and is identified as the Republic of Greater East Asia. The military created the BR Program to frighten the population to prevent an uprising. In the novel, the BR Act was passed in 1947 as opposed to the beginning of the 21st century due to an economic crisis. The film adaptation gives students three days for one victor to remain, but the novel’s only quota requirement is that at least one student must die every 24 hours–or else all the metallic collars will explode and kill everyone.
Some character appearances and personal weapons have been altered for the film version; however, can be considered of particular significance. Unfortunately, the character background stories and their relationships in the movie adaptation aren’t as clearly detailed as they are in the novel, with some crucial information being left out; for example Mitsuko’s distorted psychology and why she was the other most feared classmate. In the extended version of Battle Royale, it is revealed her mother received money for prostituting her. However, when further researching her character background, the full extent of the horrors she endured during her early years and into adolescence may have been left out of the film purposefully. Only the main characters in the movie have background stories while, in the novel, everyone has one. It would have been nice to know more information about the other students, but understandable due to time constraints.
Despite cuts to the story due to transfer to film, Battle Royale remains one of the greatest thrillers (both in print and video format) that has ever been made. Period.