Overly violent and uninteresting sum up the gruesome Battle Royale, which seems to be based on The Lord of the Flies and the short story “The Lottery”. It tried very hard to be gritty and provocative but ended up tepid. Billed as an action packed adventure movie, it quickly devolves into a mindless killing spree. With nary a coherent plot device during the length of the film, it chugs along as its cast of about 50 gets mowed down.
In the near future, in an effort to curb teen violence(?), a randomly selected class of grade nine students is forced, by the militaristic government, to fight each other until only one remains. The kids are dropped off on a deserted island with food, water, one weapon, and an explosive necklace, to deter defectors. The kids quickly form up into groups and attempt survival by either eliminating the other teams, disassembling their necklaces and running, or simply bunkering down in one of the many empty warehouses, huts, and underground caves that are present on the island. And if a sole survivor doesn’t arise the whole lot of kids is exterminated via the exploding collars.
Now, you may be wondering why the government thought that this was a good idea and the film provides a brief explanation – “‘cause we said so.”
Given the previously stated point, why would the government have to ship these kids off to an island to fight? A school yard with broken bottles and knives seems just as apt. More and more questions like these crop up throughout the film and there is little to no explanation of how an uninitiated viewer, like me, should answer them.
Like many films these days, this one is based on a series of books of the same name. The books garnered plenty of media attention when Japanese censors tried to get them banned from book stores for being too violent and racy. The books were never pulled and enjoyed more success from the attention than anyone could have imagined.
The director, Kinji Fukasaku, clumsily darts from fight to fight, unable to keep the story on track. The cast is made up of many well known Japanese television and film stars. The North American viewers will probably notice Beat Takeshi (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, Zatoichi: the Blind Swordsman) as the embittered ex-school teacher turned military man and Chiaki Kuriyama (Gogo from Kill Bill) as the one of the school girls. Takeshi is a great actor but he seems to be typecast as the angry villain. He was the one ray of sunlight in the otherwise blackened movie. He’s on screen for about 16 minutes and unfortunately he can’t save this film.
Even taken as a disposable horror flick, this film cannot be watched and unfortunately it isn’t one of those films that’s so bad that it has a sort of charm — it’s just utter garbage. The violence isn’t even that interesting because we’ve seen this sort of thing in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Hard Target. I wish that Godzilla had popped up and finished off all the kids to end their misery and ours.
P.S. Surprisingly, this is one of the top ten highest grossing films in Japan, having earned 3.1 billion yen.