There are movies that are bottles of nitro being transported through an unspecified Latin American jungle road journey which will certainly end in the deaths or certain mutilation of all those concerned in the transport of said materials. BATTLE ROYALE is just such a film.
I’m not talking about physical deaths, I’m talking about the spectacular type of swan song deaths in a metaphorical sense. The swan’s dive into molten rock to arise as a phoenix. This film would do that to its distributor... it would touch off a national debate that would both burn and transform the studio into a bastion of freedom within American Distribution Companies. However...
There is no American Distribution company that will even dare come near BATTLE ROYALE for distribution. Why? Because while we in the United States like to pretend to be in the center of a free society, the truth of the matter is hypocrisy is the ruling class of the day. There is an air of goose-stepping in this country when it comes to the freedom of art.
Many of you have read about BATTLE ROYALE on this site. You know the premise about a Junior High School Class being chosen to go to an island where they are forced to kill one another to the last boy or girl. We have collectively read that this film calls to mind a parallel to the ‘real world’ shows of today. That it reminded some of King’s THE RUNNING MAN story. That there is a bit of LORD OF THE FLIES in place.
Still others in the Talk Back’s beneath these articles have decided to raise the banner of ignorance in openly denouncing the film as some form of pornography and violence. Comparing it to Snuff films and Child Porn. Raising their voice to claim that something must be seriously wrong with the Japanese to have imagined and executed the making of this film. All sight unseen mind you. Based solely upon reading the concept. An adamant blind position of moral superiority.
As the ‘legend’ of this film grows you can be sure that various senators and representatives will begin to point and mention this film as further evidence of the eating away of society via the medium of film. How the very moral fiber of our once great nation is being corrupted by these Babylonian heathens that would wound the very heart of our nation with these cinematic blasphemies. Again without having seen the movie in question.
Even now, the filmmaker is making cuts to the film to tone the violence down and make it more palpable and 'safe' for western audiences that are so anemic in their tolerance of satire while exercising their higher moral sensibilities that they never truly see the film for what it is. They get distracted by the concept and the bare bones boiling down of the film that they never see the important side of the film. The point that the filmmaker was making.
BATTLE ROYALE is no snuff work of child pornography. The film is no demon waiting to be unleashed upon the society as a whole. What this movie is instead… is brilliant.
Remember when you very first saw Jodie Foster running through the Quantico obstacle course while Tak Fujimoto tracked alongside… you suddenly realized that this was no B-suspense crime film you were watching?
Well, BATTLE ROYALE’s first 18 minutes educates the viewer that this movie isn’t playing for laughs. That this is no low budget work of exploitation thrills. That death isn’t being treated as a jovial act for which the audience will cheer. In fact most likely, given your knowledge about the concept of the film… you become afraid.
This flick has the balls to be real. They took the concept… the basic inhuman concept of the film and enacted it as though it were really happening.
The children are really young looking. This isn’t 25 year olds playing seventh graders in Junior High School. These are 11 and 12 year old kids… maybe they’re 14, but they look extremely young. They do not relish the thing they’ve been forced into. They do not take what is happening lightly. Some can’t cope and kill themselves. Some with crushes on one another take the Romeo & Juliet approach. Some try to hide. Some fight only to survive. Some decide to really get into the situation in a Tom Berenger PLATOON sort of way.
I never expected this film to be a great movie, I expected it to be exploitation. I expected shallow character work. I expected gratuitous playing to the camera grand deaths. I thought the film would play like DOOM or any other VIDEO GAME DEATH MATCH I’ve seen, but director Kinji Fukasaku didn’t make this film impersonal or easy. He made it hard, and he did that by developing the characters. Making you care about these kids. Making the deaths not spectacular, but rather horrifying.
Perhaps it should be noted that when AICN's Dr Sotha interviewed Mr Fukasaku, he revealed that the film was made to exorcise the demons in his memory from World War II when over 2/3rds of his classmates were blown to bits by an American Bomb. That is what is at the heart of this film. The insanity of violence placed before our eyes to horrify not titillate.
You know how in HALLOWEEN you don’t care about any of the characters except for Ms Curtis? Well, that’s because Carpenter developed that character on out… so when she is in peril, we feel it for her. We empathize with her. And thus we are a part of the story and wish her a successful journey.
Here… NOONE is safe and we care about all of them. There are groups that are attempting to beat the system by working together. Some that can’t conceive of killing and are forced to do so at the risk of their own lives… trembling, crying… horrified at their own actions. Distrust and fear between everyone. Fear that your best friend will kill you when the time draws near. Hearing the announcements about who is alive and who is dead each morning. Updates on the recently departed amongst the 42 original lot of students.
These types of films in the U.S. feel safe. They set up characters that we know are pure and good and will live for the sunrise and a happy ending. THAT ISN’T HERE. Instead we have forced Darwinism. The conversations afterwards are less about ‘how cool it was when blah blah bought it’ and more about what sort of society could possibly condone the acts that take place. What had to have come before in order that this fiction would be a reality.
This film has an incredible power in place. It is very much a movie with amazing emotional resonance and power. Closer to VIRGIN SUICIDES than you believe. Closer to that than slasher films or gore exploitation. BATTLE ROYALE has a real brilliance of character and the children are always just that. Stuck in a situation beyond anything they could expect or prepare for. I found my hands clasped upon my face in shock and despair multiple times through out the screening and when it was over… I was shook through and through.
Pray that an American Distributor will release this uncut and unrated. Artisan this would be a big one for you, but do you have the balls to do it. Like I said at the opening of this review… the movie is dangerous to play with… Not to society, but politically. And with knobs like Lieberman and McCain in place… With politicians wanting to make a name for themselves and beat up on film all at the same time… this film is dangerous. But it also happens to be brilliantly acted, filmed and executed.
This is a film of uncompromised nerve. A film with the honesty to be as brutal and harsh as any you have ever seen before. In a world of watered down cinema and spineless executive control, where else can the artform turn, but to another country to unleash films with the raw nerves to touch off national and international debates.
BATTLE ROYALE is not just a fantastic film, but an important work on a precipice of the most dangerous period facing cinema in the last 40 years. This film is better than I was ever led to believe. Powerful and hypnotic and emotionally draining. See it if your country let’s you.