Monday, October 24, 2011

Battle Royale J-Movie Review (2000)

Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead


Title: Battle Royale
Romaji: Batoru rowaiaru
Japanese: バトル・ロワイアル
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Koushun Takami (novel), Kenta Fukasaku
Producer: Kenta Fukasaku, Kinji Fukasaku, Kimio Kataoka, Chie Kobayashi, Toshio Nabeshima, Masumi Okada
Cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima
Release Date: December 16, 2000
Runtime: 114 Min.
Distributor: Toei

At the dawn of the new millennium, Japan is in a state of collapse. Unemployment is endemic and school violence is out of control. The beleaguered government retaliates with Battle Royale... Each year, a randomly chosen class is pitted against itself on an abandoned island in a cruel game of survival. The rules of the game are simple: 1) it lasts three days; 2) Each player starts with food, water and a "weapon"; 3) if more than one player survives, everyone dies (by detonating special electronic necklaces; 4) there is no escape. Takeshi Kitano plays a downtrodden teacher turned Battle Royale operation leader. As the game progresses, terror and panic challenge the students' fragile trust in each other. But despite the game's brutality, the adolescent players remain obsessed with their crushes, their petty grudges - and their dreams...

Tatsuya Fujiwara as Shuya Nanahara
Aki Maeda as Noriko Nakagawa
Taro Yamamoto as Shogo Kawada
Takeshi Kitano as Kitano
Masanobu Ando as Kazuo Kiriyama
Kou Shibasaki as Mitsuko Souma
Takashi Tsukamoto as Shinji Mimura
Sosuke Takaoka as Hiroki Sugimura
Yukihiro Kotani as Yoshitoki Kuninobu
Chiaki Kuriyama as Takako Chigusa

My Review
Battle Royale is one of the well-known and critically praised movies in the J-gore genre. Based off of the book by Koushun Takami, Battle Royale was also one of the most controversal movies to come out of Japan due to the graphic nature of the violence with high school students killing each other off for survival, and it's portrayal of the Japanese government, which is understandable. It's violent, dark, and gory. Battle Royale goes for shock value and it succeeds.

Yet despite the violence, Battle Royale isn't just about blood and gore. It has a strong storyline mixed with excellent character development mostly through a series of flashbacks. These flashbacks give background to the characters and the class as a whole. They show some of the strong friendships between the characters as well as the unpleasant lives that some of them have. These flashbacks and the fact that the class was randomly selected to fight each other to the death, gives a lot of sympathy to the characters. You start to feel like these students are victims of a corrupt government's inhumane solution to big problems.


The two characters who are really easy to sympathize with are Shuya Nanahara (played by Tatsuya Fujikawa) and Noriko (played by Aki Maeda). These two are the innocent bystandards, caught up in the mayhem of this unjust game of survival. Throughout the movie they develop a close bond and try to find a way to survive the game without killing anyone, even though the rules state that only one person can survive the game. This dilemna is reflected with the character, Kawada (played by Taro Yamamoto). Kawada, a transfer student, was a survivor of a previous battle royale after his girlfriend killed herself off so he could survive. Kawada's experiences lead him to sympathize with Nanahara and Noriko, and joins them in their efforts to try to escape.


The sadistic protagonist of the movie is Kitano (played by Takeshi Kitano), who was the class' former teacher. He quit teaching, however, after being stabbed in the leg by one of the students in the class. This incident leads him to sympathize with the government and the Battle Royale Act. Yet he has a soft spot for Noriko, whom he saw as the ideal, well behaived student of the class. Kitano is an excellent villain protagonist, who at times you can sympathize with because of him being stabbed and for his affection for Noriko, yet you grow to love to hate him for being a cruel SOB.


There are two other villain characters in Battle Royale, both of whom are students. One of them is Mitsuko (played by Kou Shibasaki), a student of the class who's troubled due to her dark past involving her father. She's deceptive, leading students to believe that she's either joining them, the innocent victim, or using other methods. She's the much more rounded of the two student villain characters. This also happened to be Kou Shibasaki's debut, and helped lead to her success in J-Dramas such as Good Luck!!, Orange Days, and Galileo. She was perfectly suited for her role, providing a mysterious physic about her.

The other is Kazuo Kiriyama (played by Masanobu Ando), a transfer student who seemingly joined the game just for sadistic fun. Kazuo, IMO, is the far less impressive villain-type character. He's good a sadistic villain, but that's all there is to his character. He has no dialog throughout the movie, and no real development or backstory. He's just your standard one-dimensional psycho-path. Eventually these two villainous characters fight each other, which was a somewhat disappointing confrontation.


One surprising aspect about Battle Royale is how good the acting is, considering most of the actors portraying the students ranged in age anywhere from 14 to 19 years old. This includes Chiaki Kuriyama, who later was picked to star in the American movie Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (directed by Quentin Tarantino, who is a huge fan of Battle Royale). I felt the best performances were by Tatsuya Fujikawa, Aki Maeda, Takeshi Kitano, and Kou Shibasaki.

My Rating
9/10- Overall, this is an excellent movie and I recommend it to anyone who's interested in Japanese entertainment or gore films. However, I can't recommend it to everyone since the gore and the violence may not appeal to everyone. However, if you can stomach it (other than a couple scenes here and there it's not that bad), then I highly recommend this movie.

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