Battle Royale. This film was released way back in 2000 but somehow I missed it until The Hunger Games was about to be released and everyone was abuzz with “Hey, this is just like Battle Royale!” Well, as I covered way back in my article when The Hunger Games came out, this isn’t a new idea and so Battle Royale didn’t really create this type of film. While the ideas have been around awhile though, Battle Royale did a lot of things extremely well to make it stand out.
The basics. Teenagers in Japan have gotten out of control and are downright dangerous. So to punish them and help reinforce that adults are in charge, the “BR Act” was instigated, in which a Junior High class is chosen every year to compete in a deadly game in which only one person survives.
What works? This movie works on a very visceral level. Most of the effects are practical effects as opposed to CG work, so it’s very believable when a knife gets stuck into someone’s head or an explosion throws someone’s head up into the air. It’s gruesome and terrifying and realistic enough to shake you up a bit. 40-something kids end up getting killed and each way is unique. At the beginning, I was a little put-off by the amount of gore but I realized that the movie was doing exactly what it aimed to do. As these kids were being killed, the movie contrasted their deaths with what they were like in life. We saw a winning hoop in a basketball game contrasted with the star of the team being gunned down. We saw a boy confess his love for a girl he’s never spoken to, just as he falls to the ground. It’s intense and the way that the movie showcases life before the battle really gives a life to these people who we may only see for a scene or two. With 42 students at the beginning, it’d be easy to be lost in the mix but each character has a moment that they really shine.
Leads Tatsuya Fujiwara (Shuya) and Aki Maeda (Noriko) are great, as they try to not engage in the games. When Shuya kills a boy on accident towards the beginning of the film, the thought of “Was it an accident?” lingers on his mind for the entire movie and Fujiwara plays this well. The standout for me though was Ko Shibasaki, who played the dangerous femme fatale Mitsuko. She seems like a deranged killer at the beginning, but there are a few scenes which change the way you perceive her character. Another standout female performance is from Chiaki Kuriyama, who played Takako Chigusa. She seemed familiar to me and I realized she was the ball-and-chain wielding schoolgirl in Kill Bill, Vol. 1. In Battle Royale, her character almost wanted to pretend this situation wasn’t happening and live her normal life and Kuriyama plays it perfectly as she slowly copes with the reality of the situation.
What doesn’t work?
I can’t find any significant faults with this movie, but there are definitely reasons that some of you won’t like it. It will make you uncomfortable. In The Hunger Games, we saw boys and girls hunting each other but the gore was kept from us. In Battle Royale, we are not spared a moment, as we have to witness the deaths of these kids. It’s intense and many of you may not want to put yourself through this. Maybe you’re okay with gore, but the fact that it’s children may be the deciding factor.
Battle Royale is a complicated film that makes you watch the reality of this fictional world. You watch as young boys and girls become barbarians and the practical visual effects make this harsh realism seem even more real. The ensemble cast is very strong and the script is able to connect us to these kids even though we know they won’t last long. If you have the stomach to bear it, this story will keep you on the edge of your seat.