To some, Battle Royale may be a display of senseless violence, an exercise in extreme inhumanity and having people killed in horrific fashion, and subsequently may brush it aside (or perhaps actively hate it). However for a lot of people, myself included, it’s one of the most original, meaningful, and worthwhile films of the 21st century so far.
Although the meaning behind it is complex, the general idea is fairly simple. In this film’s world, the youth of the 21st century have gone out of control so the government introduce the BR (Battle Royale) act, which involves capturing a group of ninth graders, releasing them on an island, and forcing them to kill each other.
The film opens with a news crew rushing a car which is making its way very slowly through a crowd. Everything is very hectic and the news reporter is shouting into her mic that, “The winner is a girl. She’s smiling. She definitely just smiled.” This is the winner of the previous Battle Royale tournament, which obviously we don’t get to see, a little girl who seems to take pleasure in her killing of her fellow classmates and her subsequent victory. This is the picture that the film paints — that everyone, even the ones who seem innocent and unlikely, are capable of the good and the terrible. It’s one of the primary reasons I love this film; it shows people from all levels of the good/bad meter and brings them together to clash with one another.
As set-up and introduction the film has an instructional session for the students who are forced to participate in this “game”. Although this is part of the story and something for the characters within, it’s also instructions or guidelines for the viewers. It tells us everything we need to know about what’s going to happen within the rest of the film, the equipment the students will be given, what those mysterious necklaces are for, and the general rules of the game. It’s something I never really noticed before but upon subsequent viewings and a more in-depth look at the film it becomes apparent what this ten-minute instructional scene is also for.
From then on it’s basically every man from himself. Some of the students band together to try and figure a way out of the game alive while others go all out and kill everyone in sight also in an attempt to get out alive. This is one of the film’s most interesting aspects — the fact that everyone is doing what they’re doing to survive. As the death toll rises, which is shown by a set of titles which appear (“Boys #4 Yutaka Seto Dead” for example) the film gets bloodier and bloodier. This is not for anyone who is easily shocked or disgusted. It’s quite on the gory side, CGI or not, from machine gun spray to death by arrow to the throat. This is any kill-junkie's idea of heaven, the ultimate paradise for our obsession with violence and death in movies.
But along with the seemingly senseless violence is a meaningful message, heartfelt home life stories of the students and the fact that every death, no matter if you see it or not on-screen, strangely means something to the viewer. I think the reason for the latter is most likely the fact that the participants in the game are only young students, no older than 16. This somehow makes it sadder and more of a tragedy than if it had been a group of 40 adults. Those blood-splattered school uniforms, those innocent faces, and the fact that most of these kids didn’t ask for this in any way, serves as an example of a minority being punished for the majority’s behaviour.
On the technical side of things the film is very stylish, extremely nice to look at, bloodshed or no bloodshed. It will vary from fairly generic looking, close-up shots of the characters talking amongst one another to zoomed out shots of mountainsides and moonlit, blue-covered waves. It’s rare to find such a violent, action-centric film that’s also pleasing on the eyes.
My words can’t possibly praise this enough. It’s a fantastic film with style and substance, violence and meaning. It’s a film that should please both violence junkies and anyone looking for more substance in things. And you must admit that’s not exactly common, is it?