Batoru rowaiaru (2000)

BATTLE ROYALE (Batoru rowaiaru)

(director: Kinji Fukasaku; screenwriters: from the novel by Koushun Takami/Kenta Fukasaku; cinematographer: Katsumi Yanagishima; editor: Hirohide Abe; music: Masamichi Amano; cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara (Shuya Nanahara – Boys #15), Aki Maeda (Noriko Nakagawa – Girls #15), Taro Yamamoto (Shougo Kawada – Boys #5), Takeshi Kitano (Teacher), Masanobu Ando (Kazuo Kiriyama–Male Student No 6), Kou Shibasaki (Mitsuko); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Kenta Fukasaku/Kinji Fukasaku/Kimio Kataoka/Chie Kobayashi/Toshio Nabeshima; HK Video; 2000-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

“What it does have is plenty of splatter, noise and energy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 70-year-oldKinji Fukasaku’s (filmed the Japanese sequences of Tora! Tora! Tora!) thriller is based on the pulp best seller novel by Koushun Takami; it’s scripted by his son Kenta Fukasaku. It’s set in the economically depressed and anarchy besieged Japanese police state in the near future and concerns a deadly government scheme of a yearly Battle Royale survival game, where a chosen class is pitted against itself for real and only one person survives. Seen as a fantasy vision by the old who yearn for a more gentle time when students were obedient and juvenile delinquency wasn’t rampant, or as a warning to the young not to trust adults. It’s a jazzed up Lord of the Flies, but without the same psychological forces in play to pull off its morbid tale of self-preservation. It never reaches being a satire or does it have enough wit to morph as a death-sport fantasy. What it does have is plenty of splatter, noise and energy. This controversial film, because of its violence among children, nevertheless enjoyed a big box office success.

It opens with seventh grade teacher Kitano (Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano), from the Zenjutsi school, getting knifed by one of his pupils and forced to leave the school. Later we see the same class of forty four “Class B” 9th graders on a bus for a field trip and are overtaken by the army and airlifted to a remote island where they are forced to play in the deadly annual Battle Royale survival game. Their former teacher Kitano explains the rules, saying the kids must kill each other within three days and there are no rules to follow, the instructions are further presented by a jubilant female hostess on video. These games are a big media event in Japan, as the TV follows the actions. It precedes with lots of killing, as each of the school uniformed students is supplied with a backpack containing supplies and each is given a different weapon (I guess to make the kills colorful, as some are given questionable weapons like frying pans and others more useful ones as axes and machine guns). If they don’t comply within the time frame, they can be easily terminated as draped around their necks is a secure collar that is bomb-enabled. Some students try not to kill anyone, some commit suicide and some give into their primitive instinctual need to survive at all costs and become killers. We are left wondering who will survive and what does it mean to survive such a sicko game. From this madcap scenario, two young lovers, Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda), emerge as the heroes as they fight to stay alive together.

The characters are underdeveloped, the unpleasant film is exploitative, after all the repetitive killings its message seems too foggy and, in any case, the action scenes were not carried out that well. It doesn’t work as a serious arty film, but it does as an entertaining slasher B movie that seems desperate to be more important than what it really is. The plot line is lifted from many films, including the superior and more literate Ernest B. Schoedsack and Irving Pichel’s “The Most Dangerous Game (1932).”