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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Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘Kill Bill: Vol. 1′ (2003)

This stylised revenge film is centred around Uma Thurman’s character who is known as The Bride and having been left for dead at a church in El Paso by her ex-boyfriend Bill she wakes from her coma four years later and basically has a hit-list of people as her quest for vengeance begins. She sets about hunting down Bill’s gang members who destroyed her life and killed her baby before finishing things off with Bill himself (seen in Vol. 2). ‘Kill Bill’ was actually split into two with the follow-up released shortly after the first part and back in July it was announced that a third part will come out in the future though god knows how the story will continue.

The Bride flies to Okinawa which was no doubt just filmed in the studio as it only features the sushi bar (below right) and workshop of retired sword maker Hattori Hanzo (one of Bill’s former tutors) where she goes to to aquire the perfect sword needed for her revenge attacks. Tokyo appears on screen just after the hour mark as we see The Bride riding her motorcycle over Rainbow Bridge and through Shinjuku (below left) as she heads to a restaurant (lower left and right).

   

As I mentioned in a post a couple of years ago ‘Gonpachi’ is the restaurant in Nishi-Azabu which served as the inspiration for the ‘House of Blue Leaves’ as the photo frame (below left) hanging in the restaurant shows. This very nice, cavernous, rustic-themed place (below right) was not actually used though as a similar looking one was built on a soundstage in the studios in China. It was used for the extensive and bloody slice and dice one-against-all scene which precedes her showdown with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) outside that place in the snow.

 

I don’t mind director Quentin Tarentino’s works prior to this film but I’m certainly no big fan of his weird trademarks and unfortunately I don’t have much idea about what kind of cinema (particularly the Japanese films) inspired his work on ‘Kill Bill’.  Things like bleeping out The Bride’s name a couple of times as well as black & white shots and an anime introduction to O-Ren Ishii are thought by many as being quirky but I personally just find them a bit irritating. Furthermore the dialogue is a bit cheesy, corny and over-dramatic but maybe that was the idea. I should add that none of the aforementioned things really spoiled my enjoyment of this movie.

If you ask me (and I know you didn’t!) I think its the great soundtrack that enriches this film and its the eclectic mix of musical genres which accompany the almost continuous  blood and gore as well as the great sword fighting sequences which are great though the viewer does need to suspend their belief quite a bit.