I just finished watching the movie for the very first time. And also for the first time in a long time, I am not sure whether I really love it or hate it. If you don’t know what Battle Royale is, consider it the Big Brother to The Hunger Games (as my friend Ciara put it).
The plot is simple. Battle Royale is a state-sponsored survival program set in dystopian Japan. Each year, one high school class is randomly selected, marooned on an island and given random weapons. Contestants have to kill each other until there is only one person standing. The lone survivor at the end of three days is the winner. If there are more survivors at the end of these three days, everyone gets killed. So… there can be only ONE!
Oh and by the way, the government kidnaps the kids first and informs the parents later during the day that they have been chosen to participate in the BR Survival Program.
Without wanting to spoil too much, you can imagine all hell breaks loose from the very start. You have personal vendettas being brought into play. Betrayals becoming commonplace. The bullied seeking revenge on the bullies. The strong trying to prey on the weak. The weak trying to make allies out of stronger or smarter contestants. Almost everyone starts to realise then what they are truly capable of should they be pushed to the edge.
Japanese directors have an ingenious way of bringing interesting storylines, over-the-top gore and relief factors together. And once I learned that Battle Royale was a Japanese production, I knew I was in for a treat. Without further ado, let’s go on to analyse my 5 reasons.
- The Japanese ‘Ridiculous’ Sense of Duty & Honour
I put the word ‘ridiculous’ in quote because as we all know, the Japanese virtue of honor is so strong it’s almost unrealistic. Honestly, I very much respect that. Throughout the movie, these kids were making serious promises like it was nothing. And if the Japanese are as honorable as I think they are, I’m sure these kids made these statements very seriously too. You had 15 year olds effortlessly saying shit like, ‘I’ll protect you forever.’ And I’m just here like, Relax bro, grow a beard and pay some bills first. Because Life is about to hand you some big-ass lemons.
I’m a fan of anime and manga. And throughout my years of watching and reading both, I’ve always noticed how several stories of huge substance evolved around teenagers as lead characters. You have teenagers taking on ridiculously adult feats and responsibilities – like saving the world from extinction. Wasn’t Naruto barely 18 when he ended the Fourth Great Ninja War? Eren Yeagar was only 15 when he realised the coordinates to saving humanity rested in him. You also have Monkey D. Luffy who set out to sea to become the King of Pirates at 17, (in an era when ‘Yonko’ Whitebeard was still alive). Light Yagami was only in high school when he brought all of Japan to its knees as Kira… You get where I’m going with this.
There are a ridiculous number of manga stories like this. I can only suspect that the Japanese treat kids as adults from a very young age. Still does not explain the sometimes disturbing sexualisation of young girls by manga artists. (Just a personal observation, let’s get back on track).
2. Super Impressive Life Force.
Sooo, how many bullets does it take to finish off a teenager? I’ll answer that – at least ten. The fact that you had to unload nearly infinite clips into a character for them to stay down, was so ludicrous it was highly entertaining. One character was so tough he had to eat a cookie to die despite sustaining multiple bullet wounds. What can I say? Just things Japan :).
I can be quite observant about little things when I watch movies. For example, I like to look closely at the eyes of a supposedly dead character to see if he moves them. And boy, am I usually delighted when I spot an anomaly such as this. For Battle Royale, it was the ridiculous will to live.
3. Acting Skills.
I have watched my fair share of Japanese movies. Both high budget and B-movies. And to be honest, I am not really sold on the acting prowess of the Japanese. Especially in movies that are adaptations of my favorite animes. I still find Japanese productions rife with overacting or underacting. Note that I am making this comparison strictly in relation to their Western counterparts.
Despite some strong performances, I still thought BR had several scenes which included downright cheesy acting. But did that stop me from looking forward to the next ingenious kill? You can betcho ass it didn’t.
4. The ‘Lonely’ Teacher.
One of the standout characters in the movie for me was Kitano. A character that was a former teacher of the class, who then retired to become an instructor on the BR Program. I was impressed with his seemingly detached demeanor and his resting-bitch-facial expressions. This guy just had the aura of a person I would typecast as a meanie and a badass patriarch. But then, you check the actor’s profile and realise he is one of Japan’s most famous comedians. What are the odds?
But then, gone are the good old days when villains were simply just that: pure scumbag villains. Today, movie villains are usually given some shred of humanity. A backstory that attempts to make the viewer sympathise with them. (‘My family was killed, so it’s perfectly okay for me to stir some shit up that kills even more people’ kinda story). A similar treatment is given to Kitano throughout the movie which results in a rather funny, yet satisfying end.
I can only imagine what was going through Koushun Takami’s head when he decided to write Battle Royale. You’re out and about, minding your own business when suddenly…BAM! You get this ‘genius’ idea about a fucked up setting where randomly selected teenagers kill each other much to the satisfaction of the organisers. The reason I enjoy fictional story concepts is because of the amount of possibilities it opens up. The only limitation here is the writer’s level of imagination and creativity. I have not read the book itself, but like every movie adaptation, I am pretty sure the book is far more interesting than this already awesome movie.
Love it or hate it, Battle Royale is material worthy of a Cult masterpiece. And by the time I finished writing this article, I realised I love the movie way more than I hated it. I would recommend a watch at least once. Embrace the mayhem, the cheese and the characters. But then, I have been left wondering. If I ever found myself in a real life Battle Royale situation, how much of my humanity would I be willing to leave on the shelf? Do I really want to find out?
… I kinda do.
If you enjoyed this article, please let me know in the comments and do not hesitate to share with your friends. Thank you :).