Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Review: BATTLE ROYALE: Director's Cut

Released in 2000, directed by Kinji Fukasaku

It's hell being a teenager. It's even more hellish when you're a teenager sent by your government, along with 41 classmates, to an isolated island to hunt down and kill your peers. Battle Royale takes the concept of 'survival of the fittest' and makes it very real, showing how little it takes for human beings to turn on their friends.

In the world of the film, Japan is plagued by widespread juvenile rebellion and delinquency. The disrespect and even violence towards adults cannot be contained by traditional means, and so the government institutes a program where one class a year is chosen by impartial lottery to participate. Each classmate is given a pack with food, water, a flashlight, a map, a compass, and a random item that is hopefully a weapon. It could also be a pot lid or something equally useless. Classmates can improve their lot by collecting weapons from the dead. All students are fitted with an explosive collar that will be activated if fiddled with or if they fail to follow all rules. The rules are explained to the students in a fantastically cheesy and perky video that reminds me of a fast-food orientation training. The training film doesn't explain how having a class slaughter each other is supposed to improve the behavior of Japan's teenagers. Learning good behavior won't prevent them from being chosen, since it's random. But I digress.

Our protagonist is a young man named Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), who is still haunted by the suicide of his father two years ago. Having lost his mother years before that, Nanahara has no faith in adults. The only people he can rely on are his friends Nobu and Noriko. The Japanese government may have grown disgusted with their young, but the teens feels that the adults betrayed them first. Having lost the trust of their children, the adults can no longer communicate and connect with them, and they refuse to take responsibility for the way their children have gone astray. This is a recurring theme for the program's leader as well, an ex-teacher named Kitano (played by Takeshi Kitano) who now sends his former students to their death, even dispatching some by his own hand when they fail to respect him and their dire situation. Kitano is an ADD-stricken student's worst nightmare. When he tells you to shut up, you really had better listen.

The game has a special twist with the addition of two "transfer students," a silent psychopath with cool hair, named Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando), and a hardened veteran of the game named Kawada (Taro Yamamoto). Kawada has trust issues of his own, having dispatched people he cared about in his first go-around in the Battle Royale.

The film does its best to establish personalities for the classmates, but some get lost in the fray with 42 initial contestants plus the two transfers. Several are dispatched quickly, and bloodily. The action truly doesn't stop, what with the growing paranoia amongst friends and the Danger Zones that require students to keep moving, lest their collar be detonated. The most notable classmates in the mix are Chigusa the charmingly bitchy runner (played by Chiaki Kuriyama) and Mitsuko (played by Kou Shibasaki), who wields a mean scythe and still washes her hair and does her makeup on the island. What's the point of trying to win a fight to the death if you don't look fabulous doing it? There are several cliques on the island, and it's amusing to see the Mean Girls go at it. I always suspected those types of high school girls would shoot each other if they had the chance.

In these sorts of trapped/murderer-after-me movies, you always wonder, why don't these people just stop and THINK and they might live? Well, in Battle Royale, the teens do think, and try several ways to fight back and escape. They use everything at their disposal to survive, and some pairs or groups display true friendship and love. Granted, some groups turn on one another easily, but that's human nature. Not everyone is good, but they're not all bad either as the Japanese government believes they are in the world of the movie. There is hope in our youth, the film seems to say. Just give them a chance.

Ultimately, the class's numbers dwindle through a number of exciting fights, and we're left with just a few students. Will they fight, and turn on their closest allies? I won't spoil it for you, because Battle Royale is very worth seeing. It's pure pop entertainment, despite the underlying themes of youthful alienation from adults and each other. When you get right down to it, this is a fun movie with badass Japanese schoolgirls, a variety of weapons and deaths, and a satisfying conclusion. The depth of heart in the movie is surprisng. It seems to say that true friends are hard to find, and worth dying for.

No comments:

Post a Comment