Battle Royale Blu-ray
A nasty, violent thriller that leaves an uncomfortable taste in the mouth
With The Hunger Games having broken opening weekend box office takings for a film that is not a sequel, it makes sense to both revisit and re-release this bitingly satirical, sardonic Japanese import. Free to drift far from the clearly defined morality that anchors it’s more sanitized, mainstream successor in the young adult section of the bookstore, this brutal, unflinching adaptation of author Koushun Takami’s controversial novel – Lord of The Flies for the reality television age – examines many contemporary Japanese themes; authoritarianism, the generational divide, voyeurism. Brought to screens by director Kinji Fukasaku, Battle Royale is a carnivale of bloody, darkly comic, unspeakably violent mayhem that’s nothing if not utterly cinematic.
Set in a not-too-distant dystopic future, criminal justice has devolved to the point where every year a select class of teenagers – the most ill-disciplined – are gassed, dropped onto a remote island besieged by jungle and littered with booby traps, and instructed to fight to the death until only one remains. All of this is monitored remotely and televised to a baying nation. Featuring such memorable scenes as the exasperated embittered teacher casually embedding a knife into a mouthy girl’s skull just to show the rest of them that he really means it, this is a film that would never be produced in the US. Really it could only be the product of a society like Japan, a country forever haunted by the ghosts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Having witnessed like no other society the cold, calculated, cataclysmic destruction the human race is capable of, the Japanese are all too aware that whether it is at the point of a knife or an ocean of fire dropped from 20,000 feet, violence is only a flawed human whim away from eradicating one’s existence.
As weapons are handed out and the children are scattered one-by-one into the wilderness alliances are formed and disbanded, some kids run scared, others still try to figure a way out, while just as many simply accept what is happening and eagerly dive right in. With little in the way of set-up and much in the way of blood-splattering carnage, it’s difficult to keep track of exactly who is who – a problem not helped by all the kids being dressed in a drab, beige school uniform.
But then, in a highschool environment where those who sit atop the social pyramid dispense callous cruelties to those beneath them on a daily basis, are such victims any more distinct? And would those who are so quick to be so unkind still do so if the unfortunate target of their idle disdain had a spear with which to jam into their eye? And what of the role of authority? How would we react if the very institutions designed to enforce the social contract suddenly, arbitrarily voided it? After all, these insufferable little shits – defiant, delinquent, degenerates that they are – all talk the talk…
These are provocative questions imaginatively framed, probing the many subtle deficiencies of modern society where war is so far removed from the homeland and people channel their innate need for conflict via proxy through endless popularity/talent shows or the relative anonymity of the Internet. Rarely do we ever have to exhibit the courage of our convictions. Rather we’re simply invited to watch these terrified, dehumanized scamps chase and terrorize one another around an island as indistinct and far removed as any other war torn landscape we might stumble upon while channel surfing. Cheering on our favorites, booing the villains, and secretly thanking the heavens that it is they that are suffering and not we.