By far the most controversial film of 2000, this is an outrageous and ultra-violent satire from Japan. It’s no masterpiece, but it is endlessly thought provoking and uncompromising, rare commodities in today’s increasingly homogenized film world.
Kinji Fukasaku is one of Japan’s oldest and most respected filmmakers, having directed successful (financially if not always artistically) films like THE GREEN SLIME, BLACK LIZARD and MESSAGE FROM SPACE—but look further down his resume and you’ll find bizarre and grotesque films like GRAVEYARD OF HONOR AND HUMANITY, an unrelenting look at the life of a psychotic gangster. BATTLE ROYALE, his latest film, is fully in keeping with that latter tradition, being the story of a future world where children are encouraged to kill each other.
It’s no surprise that this film has become so controversial in the months since its December, 2000 premiere in Japan. Japanese authorities denounced it en masse, which doubtless only helped it to become the highest-grossing film of that year. Unfortunately—and unsurprisingly—there is no U.S. release on the horizon.
Set sometime in the future, this film concerns the ultimate form of ritualized combat: the “Battle Royale,” an all-out war fought entirely by 15-year olds kidnapped form their schools and set free on a small island. With all the pubescent violence of recent years, adults have apparently become so terrified of their children that the BR is the only solution—in other words, all references to real events are strictly intentional!
To insure the kids do their duty and kill each other, they’re given explosive necklaces by a sadistic headmaster—played by Japanese superstar Takeshi Kitano, whose character happens to be named…Kitano!—that are set to explode three days from their inception…the exact amount of time allotted to the Battle Royale. The kids, who are each given a different weapon upon setting foot on the island, succumb to the pressure and carry out their gruesome assignment, thus demonstrating this film’s ultra-nihilistic worldview. From there, it’s an unrelenting gorefest as tykes are shot, stabbed, beaten, garroted and so forth, with an onscreen countdown recording how many of them are left alive after each killing.
Although his film starts out with all the satirical force of NATURAL BORN KILLERS or NETWORK, Fukasaku’s direction is far too melodramatic and artificial overall. The battle scenes all seem to be shot with an eye for spilled blood, meaning this film will certainly please gorehounds but that few others need apply.
Battle Royale Production Committee
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Producers: Akio Kamatani, Tetsu Kayama, Masumi Okada, Masao Sato
Screenwriter: Kenta Fukasaku
Cinematographer: Masamichi Amano
Editor: Hirohide Abe
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Lou Shibasaki, Takeshi Kitano