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Original Title:
Batoru rowaiaru

Japan 2000

Thriller, Action, Drama

Kinji Fukasaku

Tatsuya Fujiwara
Aki Maeda
Taro Yamamoto
Takeshi Kitano
Masanobu Ando
Kou Shibasaki
Chiaki Kuriyama

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Battle Royale

Story: In the not so distant future Japan's economy collapses. Pupils don't see any future, they've lost trust in adults and give them a hard time. They go hooky, attack their teachers and do not have any respect whatsoever for them.
One day, Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and his class go on a trip with the teachers. Suddenly, they all collapse. When they wake up again, they are on an deserted island. Their teacher Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) explains that they are all part of the Battle Royale Act. The pupils have three days to kill each other. If there is no winner within a certain period of time or if anybody doesn't follow the rules the collar every pupil wears will detonate. Equipped with a randomly chosen weapon, every pupil is sent out into the wilderness. So-called danger-zones make sure that they have to constantly change places. It doesn't take long for them to team up in different groups. But gradually more and more loners show up who accept the fatal game.
Only Shuya, his friend Noriko (Aki Maeda) and the mysterious Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) stick together and want to survive as a team. But in the end, there can only be one or no one at all...

Review: "Battle Royale" is an extraordinary and shocking sociocritical b-movie which deals with the issue of trust and friendship. Despite its entertainment value the director manages to successfully criticize a system which can collapse at any time as depicted in this movie. At its time, the movie made a lot of turmoil. As if it were the most natural thing in the world we're confronted with girls in school uniform that massacre each other. Especially at the time of the Colombine massacre this was a very controversial issue, but (fortunately) nothing is sacred to Japan and so we get the chance to enjoy an exceptional movie, which actually has some substance to offer besides its brutality.

What if you had to kill your best friend to save your own life? Would you be capable of doing so? "Battle Royale" is not only asking this question on several occasions, it's also about trust between adults and children, which has been shaken to the ground by a society which was on the brink of disaster and has now taken another step forward. Adults don't have an exemplary function anymore and they also lost children's respect. One can hardly blame them for not seeing a reason to go to school. In the end, it doesn't really seem to make sense anymore.
The government on the other hand wants to show those adolescents what a privilege it is to be able to go to school. The government passes the Battle Royale Act which states that the pupils have to kill each other. Only one survivor is allowed to go home in the end. A pointless law? Kinji Fukasaku touches some philosophical sociocritical questions and offers some possible answers but leaves it to the audience what they want to take home from this movie. And this is quite a lot indeed, once you've looked past the brutal slaughter on the surface.

So let's talk about the movie's brutality. Actually there is nothing unusual. Knives, crossbows and uzis are being used to bring down your opponent. Therefore we get a lot of blood, which is by the way computer generated and not as authentic as the good, old film blood. But really shocking are the people butchering each other. Cute little school girls become crazy killers, boys have no problem slaughtering innocent girls and all this is portrayed with such a coldness towards the acts that you have to take a deep breath.
As already said before, all of this is no pointless bloodbath, it's rather a means to an end to wrap up a very good message. It's all about survival, that means all social guidelines that you've ever acquired and formed your conscience are nullyfied and we see the pupils' true nature. Of course, this makes you wonder how you would act in such a scenario. Would you recklessly fight or would you choose suicide?

The plot is very good, too, even if there's nothing extraordinarily new happening up until the end. The movie takes its time to thoroughly examine the characters' individuality and shows us that friendship, trust and love can be evanescent. It's also interesting to see that if they hadn't only thought about their own survival, the pupils could maybe have been able to take action against the adults. But it's not as if every adolescent has become a killing machine. Some hold on to what's important - friendship. Even if they don't survive in the end...
The directing is very good, too, as Fukasaku manages to capture incredible ruthlessness and directness. Up until the moment when Kitano throws a knife into a pupil's head, we still think that this is a very bad joke. Some kind of pedagogical experiment. But we are told otherwise very quickly.
The movie's outer appeal lies in its beautiful gray colors and some inserted text messages which present the movie's statements in code or which lets us know in a very macabre kind of way who has already died and how many there are still left.

Acting-wise, "Battle Royale" is pretty impressive, too. Noriko and Shuya are able to protect their friendship and most of the time the movie focuses on those two characters. Kawada takes care of the everything-could-happen factor, but there are also a lot of other supporting roles that work out very well. Chiaki Kuriyama needs to be mentioned here, who's been cast by Quentin Tarantino for the part of Gogo in "Kill Bill 1" because of her role in this movie. Also, there is Kou Shibasaki as the crazy girl with a tragic past who's taking care of an appropriate body count in the movie.
Generally the different kinds of emotions are portrayed quite credible and this is why you start caring for the characters. Especially Takeshi Kitano knows how to breathe life into his supporting role. His bond to Noriko is very special and shows us that he is not really a bad person, he's just lonely and embittered...

There is also some humor. With a pitch black kind of dark undertone to it. Clearly one highlight is the tutorial video which explains the rules. In typical Japanese style a cute over-excited girl shows us how to play the "game". Needless to say, that this video is a well-done criticism of Japan's society, too.
In addition, Kitano is responsible for some really bitter gags. Simply black humor at its best. Moreover, the classic pieces of the soundtrack, which support the action by adding a lot of contrast, are really enthralling. A movie with "Dies Irae" as an introduction just has to be good!

"Battle Royale" is a very entertaining and unexpectedly profound movie with images that can really shock you. But these days, it really takes something exceptional to wake people up and make them think. And in that way director Kinji Fukasaku really did a good job! A master-piece and a must-see, which misses the highest rating only because of some minor flaws and its b-movie flair.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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