Battle Royale, originally released in 2000 in Japan, is a harsh action film with a little horror and comedy mixed in. Featuring a cast of teenage classmates who are forced to kill each other, this film could almost never be popular in the United States with its series of recent classroom shootings. Battle Royale depicts images of a somewhat untouchable topic, putting the responsibility on the adults and government in a kind of reality TV setting. This movie is harsh, graphic, and gory at times, but actually succeeds in making this disturbing topic light hearted and cartoonish. It’s almost like something out of an old Warner Bros. cartoon where Daffy inadvertently blows himself up, trying to off Bugs.
The basic story follows the classmates on a class trip. This group of ninth grade students is drugged and taken to an island where they are forced to kill each other in order for one of them to survive. The two main characters, Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda) find safety in each other and a third, older outsider named Kawada (TaroYamamoto). Another noteworthy actress in the film is Chiaki Kuriyama, who was featured in Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
Most of Battle Royale is a series of confrontations between two or more of the 42 students in which someone ends up dead. The graphic battles are interspersed with flashbacks and conversations between the students, explaining their lives together back at school. The organization that brings the students to the island is a government sanctioned, military run group that randomly chooses classes to be eliminated. In the world of the movie, because of mass student protests, the adults have decided that something drastic is necessary in order to force the youth of Japan to become “productive citizens”.
The man running the “game”, played by Takeshi Kitano, was formerly these classmates’ teacher. We discover through a series of flashbacks that Kitano’s character quit teaching because of a knifing incident, and now has his own ulterior interest in this particular group of students.
The casting for Battle Royale deserves note and the acting is exceptional considering the young age of many of the actors and content of the film. Battle Royale is really over the top in violence and even has some scenes that are digitally enhanced to make them even gorier. There are several scenes that might be unwatchable had they been edited differently or not shot heavily shadowed.
Interestingly enough, because of some of the editing choices, the score, and extreme characterization, much of the violence comes off as comical or farcical and leaves a sense of light-heartedness. Putting the violence in such a comical light brings to mind images of another Beat Kitano project, MXC. This is a popular Japanese TV show now imported to the United States by Spike TV in which people are made to traverse different outrageous obstacle courses which usually causes them some rudimentary public or physical trauma.
Battle Royale brings forth some interesting philosophical subjects and social commentary with its portrayal of violence and community reform. Because the violence contains comical residue, the viewer is able to experience much more violence than they might otherwise be able to stomach, establishing new levels of acceptability. But it also realistically portrays violence and allows one to question the extent to which people might be willing to go in order to survive.
Putting a program of systematic youth elimination in the hands of adults makes for an interesting portrayal of what one generation might be willing to do in order to make sure that its group survives. This film brings up interesting pictures of what it is like to make that transformation from youth to adulthood, and how one age group might struggle to maintain its power by eliminating its progeny.
In the end, Battle Royale is an enjoyable first time watch and is easy to get drawn into seeing how each of the students will off themselves or be killed by a fellow classmate. However, the film does not really hold up for repeated viewings. Once the kitsch value has passed, the movie becomes tedious and a bit long.
Okay, so here is the real let down of the entire DVD: there are tons of interesting looking extras on the second disc to the special edition of Battle Royale. However, they are all spoken in Japanese with only the option of Korean subtitles. This was a terrible let down because there really did seem to be some interesting things on the second disc. If it were not for pretty good disc navigation and acceptable picture and sound on the disc, I would have given this DVD an even lower score.