Review: Battle Royale (2001) (The Ultimate Japanese Film?)

“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act….”

Thus begins one of my favourite Japanese films! Yes, Battle Royale! The DVD of Battle Royale was taken away from her by a me a couple of years ago, so I bought it off Amazon (cheap as chips!). With a few hours to spare last night, she watched it. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but oh boy, the quality has not dipped a bit! So let me tell you why I adore Battle Royale…

The plot: Japan’s youth is in crisis, the government pass the “BR Act,” meant to scare the youth into obedience. A school class is selected at random, sent to a remote island and then have three days to survive, as only one can survive… We are slowly drawn into the lives of a class chosen at random, full of sweaty, angsty teenagers, thrown into a maelstrom of violence and Darwinian mechanics.

Each of the forty pupils has a backstory, usually shown through a brief (and excellent) flashback. These are typical students forced against their will to fight for survival, and there are all the reactions that you would expect from adolescence. Some band together, some relish the opportunity to kill their fellow classmates, some isolate themselves, and some use this chance to tell someone they’ve loved them for a long time. The dialogue is spot-on, with emotional scenes heightened, not devalued, by the use of lines such as “You’re cool!” It all fits, it all feels right. The acting and dialogue convince the audience that this could happen (unlikely as it is, unless Japan is really going to the dogs!).

Yes, it’s a massive cast…but each member is used extremely well

And although there is a main cast of forty students, you feel for all of them. Often with an extended cast many characters get lost in the shuffle. Here, although there are a few main characters, each student is recognisable and relatable. Even their ex-teacher, played by Beat Kitano Takeshi. He, perhaps, has the most painful backstory of them all. His profession is to ensure the future of Japan through teaching, and this class is proof that he’s failed. And, unfortunately, he must watch them die/murder each other, one by one, just one less face to face the future…

It has everything you want from a Japanese film: a strong social message, brave, thought-provoking messages, tonnes of blood and gore (each student has an electronic collar attached to their neck, which can explode at the press of a button; the first instance of this happening is up there with anything from ‘Ichi the Killer,’ for instance), beautiful landscapes (no exaggeration!), the strange Japanese fascination with schoolgirls, multiple backstories and plots woven throughout the film…in essence, it’s the perfect Japanese film.

There are glimpses of Kurosawa in the direction, snapshots of John Woo in a shoot out scene (Hello Hard Boiled!), Beat Kitano Takeshi (he’s brilliant), and that psychotic girl from Kill Bill vol. 1 (the one with that spiked ball on a chain). If you haven’t watched it, please, please watch it, before Hollywood butcher it with another ill-advised remake of a Japanese film. Hollywood could never have the guts to emulate something as courageous as Battle Royale…so they shouldn’t bother! And I’ll leave you with the words of Kitano: “Life is a game. So fight for survival and see if you’re worth it.”

VERDICT: 10/10. Battle Royale is the Japanese version of Lord Of The Flies, but bloodier and more controversial. Simply put, it’s excellent. Watch it now if you haven’t already!

What did you think of Battle Royale (2001)? Leave  your thoughts/comments below!


4 thoughts on “Review: Battle Royale (2001) (The Ultimate Japanese Film?)

  1. Vigour of Film Lines November 3, 2017 / 7:01 pm

    Haven’t watched it yet, although I am a big admirer of Japanese film. You definitely got me interested, nice review

    Liked by 1 person

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