Battle Royale (2000) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would definitely be R for violence, gore and language
Running Time: 122 min.
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kenta Fukasaku (based on the novel by Koushun Takami)
Review published January 9, 2003
It was with a good amount of anticipation that I obtained the "Special Version" of the infamous Battle Royale, but sad to say, it was not worth the time and effort to watch, much less hunt around for. It's a film that seemingly gets positive reviews almost everywhere you look, and a giant buzz has been circulating around the internet about what a great work it is. After sitting through what I can only describe as a monotonously bad movie, I am completely at a loss to come up with a reason why. Is it just hip to say you've seen this? Is it just cool to claim to like it? Or do people out there genuinely think this is a great film? Does this touch a chord out there that I just don't have the capability of understanding? How can I possibly be so far off the mark? How can a movie that is reportedly so riveting and aesthetically engaging literally be putting me within a blink of boredom-induced sleep?
It's based on the novel by Koushun Takami, which reportedly does a much better job fleshing out the allegorical qualities, as well as the commentary on Japanese culture and more feeling for the characters. Not having read it, I'll defer to the opinions of those who have. There's very little to the plot of the actual movie, however. 42 teenage students are taken to a remote deserted island, each given three days to kill each other until only one is left, or everyone dies, as they all wear a deadly collar that tracks them and will explode should they try to remove it. They are all armed with survival kits and one weapon or device to assist in their goals.
Yes, that's actually a movie plot you see above. It has a premise that might remind you of a "reality TV show" and an execution that derives from almost every dumb teen slasher movie you've seen many times before. At first glance, it would seem like an amusing premise for a satire, yet for large stretches the film takes itself seriously on the one hand, then completely goes for bad over-the-top theatrics and schlock in the other. Basically, everything remains on the level of the visceral, and while it does evoke a reaction when the plot is first introduced, after you've seen the first few teenagers die, the film becomes crippled by its own mechanical plotting. In addition, it's never really clear what the ultimate aim of the "battle royale" program really is, leaving you to the conclusion that the main point of the film is to show lots of titillating violence and sensationalistic elements, and leave the intellectuals to come up with a half-baked theory on what it all is supposed to mean.
There are some attempts to incorporate a theme of friendship to the mix, as if we are supposed to be mortified that peers can kill peers, even if they know and like each other, but most of the characterizations seem a bit too shallow for us to really give a damn. Instead, there's a lot of phony baloney where girls still are making goo-goo eyes at the boys, some of whom are even still putting on make up, even though they have literally hours left to live. There isn't a heartfelt emotion to be found anywhere among the cast, and writing so inept, it actually is futile to even laugh at.
I suppose there are people who will sit and study this film, probably trying to read a lot into it, but I say, "Why bother?" Even if at its core there is some sort of social commentary to be found, it doesn't really excuse bad storytelling or ridiculous teen suspense gimmicks in order to achieve it. I won't succumb to the controversy or the hype, and I will concede that a good movie could have been made with the same premise by someone who had better ideas for how to go about it. But with a story this ludicrous and motivations this inane, your mind has to really work overtime trying to come up with your own conclusions as to what is going on, and in a film this action-packed and violent, the fact that you can sit and conjure up theories as to what is going on while viewing it only serves to show how boring the on-screen human drama truly is.
If you want fast-food entertainment of nonstop carnage, by all means enjoy the Battle Royale "with Cheese." Those who want actual food for thought should read "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding for the same tale with real insight and characters you can really feel the tragedy of.
-- Followed by Battle Royale II
-- This idea inspired a television mini-series in Argentina called "Sangre Fria" (Cold Blood)
©1998 Vince Leo