Battle Royale (2000)


Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale is one of those rare films that has never not been famous. Seriously, when it came out in 2000, everyone was abuzz about this crazy movie where school kids are dumped on an island and forced to kill each other. Which is pretty much par for the course concerning movies about legalized murder; as Death Race 2000 was also insanely infamous, eventually hitting the mainstream with a reboot. Battle Royale was famous, and then became bigger news when creator Koushun Takami felt that the current teen sensation, the Hunger Games, borrowed bits and pieces from his plot wholesale.

Apparently you can copyright the idea of kids being put on an island with murder as their only way off.

I didn’t really pay attention then, and thus I’m not 100% sure what the lawsuit was about, but I’m guessing it centered on the idea of the island’s “kill zones.” As the battle progresses, portions of the island are blocked off from the participants. If they enter a forbidden area, their heads explode courtesy of the bomb necklaces they’re forced to wear. The Hunger Games (the book at least) had a similar conceit concerning its big grand, finale battle too. Other than that though, the plots are rather dissimilar, as one is focused on a girl’s coming of age story in a dystopic wasteland, while Battle Royale’s cast of characters are developed while they’re fighting it out.

Battle Royale - Exploding Throats

Okay, I guess it blows out your throat, but that’s still a fatal injury, right?

Yoshitoki Kuninobu’s (Yukihiro Kotani) death above is actually the brilliant thing about this movie. There’s so many school children (42 total), and so little character development, that the viewer never gets a read on who’s safe. Kuninobu was last seen on a bus talking a polaroid with two friends, so you’d figure he’d be one of the ones kept around until the end. Not so; instead he ends up being the exploding necklace example/victim.

Battle Royale - Kazuo Kiriyama

One thing I really like about this film are the lighting choices. When transfer student Kazuo Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando) meets up and slaughters a bunch of kids at night on the beach, the scene is actually shot dark. Not Hollywood “dark,” where the background is black but the characters are all properly lit to give the illusion of nighttime. No, here everything is dark, making it tough to see just how Kazuo manages to take the submachine gun from one student to mow down the rest.

Battle Royale - Chiaki Kuriyama

Battle Royale’s script should be taught in middle-school English classes as a textbook example of contextual reading. Again, we’re meeting these kids mid-crisis, and have almost no working knowledge about any of the 42. Yet in one short scene we can learn: a.) how the rest of the school viewed Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama), b.) how Chigusa actually is, and c.) where Quinton Tarantino found Uma Thurman’s outfit for the Kill Bills. (Tarantino’s love for Chiaki ran so deep that he also used her to play Gogo Yubari in the first Kill Bill.)

It’s also eye-opening to note that all it takes to get guys to totally pay attention to a story that wouldn’t be out of place transposed into an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 is to drop all the who’s-sleeping-with-who? gossip into a bloodbath. No one will suspect a thing.

Battle Royale - Bathhouse Slaughter

Also one of those rare films that can support a length of over an hour and a half. With 42 stories to tell, there’s plenty of material available, and very little of it is predictable.

There’s a lighthouse being squatted by a group of girls whose unity is betrayed when they take in the hapless Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara). While Nanahara rests upstairs, one of the girls, Yuko (Hitomi Hyuga) tries to poison his food, but another cheerleader eats it, causing a lighthouse-clearing gunfight.

Battle Royale - Lighthouse Slaughter

Yuko leaps off the lighthouse to her death in penance.

It’s subplot heaven for those of us who love subplots. Rather than stretching one story too thin over a two hour runtime, here Kenta Fukasaku drops 42 stories into the same allotment. Stories start and resolve in the span of a normal commercial break.

Frankly the only thing stopping this type of narrative framework change from becoming the norm is the fact that it’s tied to a story about 15 year-olds murdering 15 year-olds.


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