July 28, 2013

Battle Royale

Kinji Fukasaku, 2000

Part of an effort of controlling students during extensive social unrest, the Japanese government creates a program to counteract the rebellion. Every year, a single class of Japanese students are put on a remote island and forced to fight each other to the death.

This blood-splattered Japanese blockbuster by Fukasaku immediately draws comparisons to The Hunger Games. The comparison is fitting, however, this picture lacks all of the glitz and glamour of The Hunger Games and that's not a bad thing. In fact, the novel that this film was adapted from was actually published in 1996, 12 years before The Hunger Games novel was even published - making this the true original. This is a colder piece, much less forgiving and much more gory and violent. There's no Elizabeth Banks with white makeup caked on her face here, but a cold-hearted schoolteacher eager to see vengeance played out before him from past students who mistreated and disrespected him when they were under his schooling. 

The blood packets burst early in the film, with the plot laid out rather directly and efficiently. From there, it plays out in a video-game like formulation similar to The Raid Redemption or Kill Bill with progressive difficulty. The classical music playing in the background throughout the film is chilling but fitting. This is because while these students are killing each other off in brutal fashion, there is an artful touch to it. Each kill is unique, and while disturbing, there is something to appreciate about it. Sometimes the students are able to call back on past bullying, or jealousy... but sometimes it's just about having to kill their fellow student so that they them self can survive. It's not a perfect film, some of the gunfights are rather cartoonish in the sense that they are shooting each other at close-range and not hitting their targets. Some of the delayed killing is very much like a cheesy 80's film with the stretched dialogue (ie. "You know I should kill you right now, but I'm going to give you this long speech about how much I hate you first") which inevitably leads to some kind of reversal. In the end though, it's very well done and certainly makes an impression. And it really makes The Hunger Games look VERY derivative. Fukasaku was working on a sequel to the film but unfortunately died of cancer in 2003 after shooting one scene. His son completed the rest of the project and released Battle Royale II: Requiem shortly after. 

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