Thursday, August 21, 2008

Battle Royale review

In the “near future,” Japan is in a state of turmoil. Kids are out of control and are rebelling against adults. In order to keep them in line, the government sets up the “Battle Royale act” which publicly selects a 9th grade class of about 40 kids to be sent to an island for 3 days. The government and army attach collars to their necks (which will explode when tampered with) and give strict detailed rules to follow. They give each kid one weapon and tell them there must be one survivor at the end of the three days or they all lose.

The Good?
The film follows through on its original and catchy premise. It is an intense, simple and unique idea that generates discussion, empathy and horror.

Kinji Fukasaku takes an easily exploitative premise and treats it maturely by giving many of the characters depth and personality to make their sudden deaths all the more meaningful. The choice to use a director who lived through World War II shows.

The suspense and mystery to the plot make the film very involving. The focus is spread amongst many characters so any seemingly “main” character could die. A welcome change from horror films where the biggest names are usually the survivors. Tension lurks around every corner in every single scene.

A very strong cast with Takeshi Kitano as the director of the whole island program, leaving us uneasy with his combination of deadpan humor and serious delivery. Kou Shibasaki, Masanobu Ando, Tatsuya Fujiwara and Chiaki Kuriyama are all memorable and realistic in their roles. You won’t forget many faces, even years after watching this film.

Good on the technical level, from cinematography to the soundtrack, Fukasaku chooses classical pieces to add maturity and irony, creating his own Apocalypse Now.

The Bad?
The potential offensiveness of the film may be a turn-off for some. It is very violent, dark and cynical and the argument can be made that it still is exploitation.

Fans of the book will be disappointed because the character depth in the film comes nowhere near that of the novel. Viewers never truly understand more than a few key relationships, but the novel really connects everyone in the class and puts us in the heads of all the students. It would be impossible to fit all that into a film, so hey, that’s why it was a book first.

The reasons for the creation of the Battle Royale program, its thematic implications and social commentaries have been changed and simplified for the film. The book has a more complicated, reasonable explanation that justifies the story. This is why the movie can be viewed as exploitative, while Koushun Takami’s source material is no less than brilliant.


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