- Document type
- 9 April 2001
- Format viewed
- Original title
- Battle Royale
- Kinji FUKASAKU
- Takeshi KITANO
- Tatsuya FUJIWARA
- Aki MAEDA
- Taro YAMAMOTO
- Masanobu ANDO
- Running time
- 113 mins.
It's been a long time since a Japanese film managed to make headlines in the mainstream Western press. The furor over Battle Royale reverberated across the globe, creating a buzz which, in the commercial sense, certainly hasn't done the film any harm, having been already released in a number of foreign territories. In Japan too, Kinji Fukasaku's battle first with the censors and subsequently with parliament (as detailed in our interview with the director), helped boost audience numbers. A mere month after the film had finished its theatrical run, a new 'special edition' version was released, toning down some of the violence in order to achieve a lower rating. With young teenagers now finally allowed to see the film, the new version again played to substantial crowds.
Based on the novel by Takami Koshun, Battle Royale is a thought-provoking tale of 'what if…?'. The film is set in a near-future Japan where the government's concerns about juvenile delinquency and the youth's disregard for discipline and order have paved the way for extreme measures: the methodical extermination of teenage children. The method: groups of high school children are systematically kidnapped and brought to a deserted island. They are given weapons and food and an order: to go out and kill each other. The last one standing is allowed back into society.
It's a brutal premise and what follows is inevitably a brutal film. Fukasaku never has pulled any punches when it comes to showing violence on screen, and this time around it comes bloodier than ever. This has prompted some to judge the film as little more than a stylised blood bath, a Friday the 13th with guns and younger victims.
However, there is a lot going on beneath the crimson-soaked surface. Fukasaku questions a society by extrapolating its phenomena. He presents us with a Japan whose anger over violent youth has gone so far overboard that the solutions are worse than the problem. In fact, it breeds what it intends to destroy, forcing these children to wreak more havoc upon each other in three days, than they could ever wreak upon society in a lifetime's worth of delinquency. Conservative politics destroy rather than create, seems to be Fukasaku's message. The young here are the scapegoats for the problems of a country that suffers from an overdose of luxury. It has to create its own crises. The army no longer fights foreign aggressors, but its own children.
Fukasaku's reasons for making the film are more than concern over politics and society. The story of fifteen-year-olds caught in a crisis situation mirrored his own experiences during and just after World War II. At age 15, Fukasaku was working in a factory that was a regular target for Allied bombing raids. There, he said, he learned what happens to friendship in a life-threatening situation. In trying to project these experiences onto a story about today's youth one inevitably encounters a generation gap. To bridge this gap, the director brought in his own twenty-something son Kenta to write the screenplay. Even though it's a step closer, some say that the dialogue is not like the language today's Japanese youth use. Still, that hasn't stopped any of those youth from standing in long lines outside the nation's cinemas in order to see the film.
Battle Royale is a powerful, blood red barrage of a film. Its strengths are undeniable, its weaknesses few. In the winter of his career, Fukasaku is still provoking. And he's succeeding more than ever.
Tartan Video (UK)
Two Disc Special Edition. Region 0. English subtitles.
Region 1. English subtitles.
Wision Production (Korea)
Battle Royale I and II box. Region 3. English, Korean subtitles.
Warner Home Vidéo (France)
Region 2. French subtitles.
Battle Royale 1 and 2 - Director's Cut. Region 2. French subtitles.
Region 2. No subtitles.
Special Version. Region 2. No subtitles.