"42 Students, Three Days, One Survivor, No Rules."
Fearing that the youth of the nation has spiraled dangerously out of control, Japan passes the Millennium Education Reform Act (better know as the Battle Royale Act) in order to stop teen delinquency. The law calls for a student lottery that will select one class each year to participate in a battle to the death on a remote island, where only one student will leave victorious. Nanahara is just one of the 42 students in Class B that must struggle to survive when all of his friends are out for blood.
BATTLE ROYALE explodes onto the screen from the pages of Koushun Takami's novel. Mixing survival horror with fast-paced action and suspense, it transforms the screen into an ultra-violent live-action comic book. The characters in the film take more closer after the ones described in the manga, where each of the forty-two students have their own unique personalities and strategies within the game. Some fight for survival while others try to find peace, but the two mysterious transfer students that have entered the game unannounced have much more sinister intentions...
Kinji Fukasaku's film can most closely be compared to Stanely Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in terms of its pitch black humor, unrelenting violence, and extreme final solution towards teen delinquency. It is as much a social satire as it is a brutal and bloody action film. BATTLE ROYALE contains shocking portrayals of murder committed by and against its teen characters, which led to a great deal of controversy in the wake of the school shootings that occurred around the time of its release. Unlike Joey Stuart's exploitative THE FINAL which glorifies teen violence, or the camp ridiculousness found in splatter flicks like MACHINE GIRL, the deaths in BATTLE ROYALE are instrumental in creating a microcosm for far greater social concerns. The incredible cinematography and superb editing also help to bring these elements together in a beautiful overall display.
BATTLE ROYALE contains an overwhelming cast of over forty teens in addition to the various adults, and yet each of them have been perfectly selected to fit their specific characters. Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda provide memorable roles as the two central protagonists, although they are often overshadowed by many of the supporting characters. Kô Shibasaki's performance as the cold-blooded Mitsuko Sôma is among the best, while Tarô Yamamoto also creates a multi-layered personality as Shôgo Kawada. The vengeful headmaster played by Takeshi Kitano is yet another expertly cast role in this lengthy lineup.
The serious themes found within the context of the film are frequently broken up with its brilliantly dark sense of humor. Kitano's cynical remarks are delivered with such enthusiasm as he sends the students out to their demises. The irony or surprise found in many of the deaths also serves as a release from the horror. Perhaps the funniest moment comes in the form of the televised introduction to the rules that the students receive from a bubbly game show host.
Another interesting thing to note is how each of the weapons that are given to the various students resemble their personalities. Noriko is stealth and observant, which is why she is allotted a pair of binoculars. Nanahara is given a pot lid, representing a shield. He is a peacemaker and a defender, and this would only seem fitting for his character. Yukiko similarly tries to cease the fighting using her weapon, a megaphone, but it only leads to her destruction. BATTLE ROYALE's sociopathic villain Kiriyama is given a fan, which he quickly exchanges for a submachine gun. The erratic rain of bullets it produces reflects Kiriyama's 'fire-from-the-hip' mentality as he sets out to kill as many students as he can for sheer pleasure. These are just a few of the many examples found throughout the film.
Whether it is enjoyed purely for the high-powered action and suspense, or for its underlying social significance, BATTLE ROYALE proves to be one of the most exciting, intelligent, and thought-provoking films in modern Japanese Horror cinema.
If you liked BATTLE ROYALE, check out:
DEATH NOTE, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, SUICIDE CLUB.