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Batoru rowaiaru (2000)

Battle Royale (Battle Royale Special Edition DVD)

Could you kill your best friend? ... One Dead. 41 To Go.

Starring:

Aki Maeda

Chiaki Kuriyama

Kou Shibasaki

Masanobu Ando

Takeshi Kitano

Taro Yamamoto

Tatsuya Fujiwara

Directed by:

Kinji Fukasaku

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 144 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: Japan

Remember ‘The Running Man’? It pitched big Arnie Schwarzenegger as a misunderstood crim forced to take part in a reality TV game show in which a gang of fat Gladiator-types try to slice him up into tiny pieces of schnitzel. ‘Battle Royale’ is Japan’s answer to that one – a fantastically implausible tale of 40-odd screaming teens trapped on an island and cajoled into killing each other.

Here’s the deal: it’s the not-too-distant future, and Japan’s got itself into a right old mess. 10 million are out of work and hundreds of thousands of whippersnappers are boycotting school, so for some reason the Government decides to pass an act which looks a dead cert to solve none of the above. It’s called the Millennium Education Reform Act (a.k.a. “the Battle Royale Act”), and involves the annual random selection of a class of 14-15 year olds to be drugged, armed with an array of varyingly-useful weapons, and told the last one left breathing is the winner.

The film focuses on the latest lucky gaggle of teens, and pulls few punches in showing them pick one another off in gory detail. Given that there’s 42 of the little blighters it might sound a little tedious but, despite making us sit through practically every death, the late Kinji Fukasaku’s speedy direction prevents things from ever getting boring. As for the violence itself, it’s hard to deny that it’s gratuitous enough to merit the controversy sparked by the film in both its native Japan and abroad. However, it’s also violence of a distinctly cartoony variety, with OTT levels of blood on show and some heavily-exaggerated sound effects. In effect, the whole thing’s pretty difficult to take seriously – but then again that may very well be the point.

‘Battle Royale’ is a fascinating watch, but its attempts at bringing us close to the more important characters are clumsy, and at times it’s almost as if it’s just trying too hard to kick up a storm. Its key flaw, though, is in its overall premise, which is never explained properly and therefore leaves itself open to a world of nitpicking: the students appear to have no previous knowledge of the game, yet it’s suggested early on that it’s given substantial media coverage; only one class a year is selected, which would appear to have very little point in terms of either population control or discipline; it seems unusual that those who are actually attending school would be selected (you’d think the possibility of being sent to Death Island would make the average student even MORE likely to ”boycott school”).

Fans of Fukasaku’s earlier work such as ‘’Tora! Tora! Tora!’ or ‘Graveyard Honour’ should make sure they catch this, as it’s an interesting response to the worldwide phenomenon that is reality TV – but just don’t expect it to make too much sense.

It's Got: Guns, knives, clubs… and a saucepan lid.

It Needs: A fairer spread of weapons.

DVD Extras This double-disc special edition bad-boy contains a trailer, stills gallery, filmographies, film notes by Mark “Earp” Wyatt, Tartan Video’s ‘Asia Extreme’ trailer reel, a collector’s card featuring the poster art, a 4-page information booklet, add-on footage, a TV Spot, and a director’s statement. If all that’s not enough for you, it’s also bursting at the scenes with featurettes, including a ‘Making Of’, a ‘Behind The Scenes’, and a special effects showcase. DVD Extras Rating: 10/10

Alternatives:

Battle Royale II, Lord of the Flies, The Running Man

Summary

Uneven and nonsensical, but not entirely unenjoyable.

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One Comment

  1. Kimono Kijiwa
    Posted November 27, 2009 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    “he students appear to have no previous knowledge of the game, yet it’s suggested early on that it’s given substantial media coverage;”

    No, that is not the case – they were flabbergasted that they were chosen. They knew this game existed. They could not believe that *they* were chosen.

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