Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘Battle Royale’ (2000)

Due to overwhelming popular demand (two people!) it’s time to throw in my two cents on this Japanese movie which is included in this series owing to its popularity in the Western world. The violent ‘Battle Royale‘ (or ‘Batoru Rowaiaru‘ to give it its Japanese title and pronunciation) caused great controversy when it was originally released.

This film was first brought to my attention back in 2002 on the BBC show ‘Jonathan Ross’ Japanorama‘ (S01E02) and the story centres on an unruly high school class taken to a deserted Island for a maximum three day stay with the important word there being maximum! That’s because they have been forced by legislation to compete in a battle where they are forced to slaughter each other with only one person able to leave the island. In that sense, it has similarities to ’Letters From Iwajima‘ (2006) and funnily enough both Iwajima and Hachijojima, where ‘Battle Royale’ was filmed, are actually both in Tokyo despite them being islands hundreds of miles away going south.

The BR Act is explained to these unwitting participants by an annoying woman giving instructions to the students via an educational video in one of those really annoying squeaky girly voices that are just not pleasant on the ears of us foreigners. The students are each given a bag with a randomly selected weapon with a few food and water rations. The man handing these bags out is none other than the aptly named Kitano-Sensei played by none other than Takeshi Kitano who is a rare phenomenon as he is the director of some very violent movies. Yet, in spite of this, he is a much loved television personality who often appears on Japanese variety shows. Oh and he’s also an artist and one of his paintings appears towards the end of this film. For anyone who thinks the kids of today need some harsh discipline then they should watch this film to realise how absurd that is!

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This kill-or-be-killed take on ‘Lord of the Flies‘ focuses on a few of the students and how they cope. Whilst some of them do decide to play the game others try to find a way to get off the Island without violence. To be honest, I did find it a little hard to really get into the characters as the majority seemingly appear for just short periods but once the numbers begin to dwindle on an hourly basis it became easier to realise that Shuya and Noriko are the main protagonists. Like many stories, there are a mix of good and bad people which can easily be characterised into geeks, outcasts and superficial bitches. I didn’t realise it at the time but one of the students is Chiaki Kuriyama whose portrayal of Takako in this film was the inspiration for her character in Kill Bill: Volume I‘ (2003)where she played the schoolgirl bodyguard of O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu).

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Many people will be shocked by the unapologetic detail to graphic violence but despite all the gloom, blood and gore its a very watchable film with a comic feel in parts which moves along at a fast pace and is so compelling that it kept me hooked for 108 minutes. It is indeed quite moving at times as the characters are forced to confront such extreme circumstances amid the atmospheric tension and emotion created by a masterful soundtrack.

Tokyo Fox Rating 8/10

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