Battle Royale is one of the best films I have seen in recent years. A violent and emotional tale which grabs your attention right from the start; this is a genuine masterpiece of Japanese cinema. Captivating and disturbing by turns, a fantastic concept is successfully realised here as a powerful movie for the new millennium.
The background of the film highlights the generation gap which has developed in modern society. The youth of today is perceived as "out of control" by much of the adult population and their often wild behaviour invokes fear in their parents and teachers. This leads to the government of Japan introducing the Battle Royale Act, which stipulates that each year, a randomly chosen school class will be sent to a remote island and forced to fight to the death. Only one pupil is allowed to survive the slaughter.
The film kicks off with a gentle introduction to the class in question as they are bundled onto a bus bound for an unknown destination. The peace is soon shattered as they find themselves on a remote island crawling with soldiers and are given a scary explanation by their teacher, Kitano ("Beat" Takeshi). He plays them a government video presented by a cute Japanese teen, as though it was a kid´s music show. Still reeling from the shock the unlucky students are given a mystery pack with weapons or useful objects and forced to leave at short intervals. It doesn´t take long for the bodies to start piling up.
Kinji Fukasaku is the director and he does a tremendous job effortlessly weaving fast action and graphic violence with emotional scenes and complex character relationships. The result is impressive with a number of beautiful scenes sticking in the mind (by hight). The screenplay is excellent as it manages to encompass the fates of many characters while creating a series of imaginative but believable events.
Running time is 109 minutes but few are wasted. The movie gathers pace as it progresses with a couple of mystery characters thrown into the mix and the ever shrinking area available to the kids. The island is divided into squares and every few hours certain squares are announced as off limits on pain of death.
The acting is very good, obviously the film is subtitled in English but this should not put you off. One of the more devious female students obviously caught Tarantino´s eye as he cast her in Kill Bill and even dressed her the same way. The music is also well chosen, tense or melancholy as required.
The concept of the film is highly original and even beyond the basic premise this movie is filled with brilliant little touches and ideas. It seems likely that this will inspire many film makers but few will capture the same blend of action and touching drama.
After watching Battle Royale it may haunt you for a few days, it has echoes of Lord of the Flies but with the tables turned and the adults gone insane. Some may decry it as a shock violent flick but I think it has a serious point to make about the generation gap and whatever you think it is certainly refreshingly inventive and different. Sadly the director died shortly after starting the sequel but his son has taken over and Battle Royale 2 should be available over here some time soon. Personally I can´t wait, I just hope it lives up to this tremendous effort.