Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Genre(s): Action, Thriller
Runtime: 114 minutes (standard cut), 122 minutes (director’s cut)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
The 2000 Japanese action-thriller Battle Royale (originally titled “Batoru Rowaiaru” in Japanese) could be seen as an important precursor to the Hunger Games franchise. Set in a dystopian future, a class of Japanese middle-schoolers are transported to a remote island where they must fight to the death, with only one survivor, as part of a new disciplinary program. This style-over-substance bloodbath has been a lightning rod for controversy since its release. Despite provoking strong reactions from many people, both negative and positive, my take on the flick is more muted.
Playing out like a live-action anime, I think Battle Royale stumbles a bit because of its apparent failure to give more depth to its characters. There isn’t a significant build-up to the deathmatch, so we don’t get much of a chance to understand the forgettable characters. It does make the work fast-paced, but I had a hard time becoming attached to any of the inhabitants of the movie’s universe. The easiest way to tell who was who was by looking at what weapon they were given (since every “contestant” was a handed a different one).
The bright spot in all of this is Takeshi Kitano, playing Kitano, the villainous, vengeful teacher. He’s definitely the most memorable aspect of the film, bringing some surrealism and dark humor to the proceedings. Believe it or not, Takeshi Kitano actually hosted the game show Takeshi’s Castle, which was brought to the United States with hysterically-funny alternate dubbing and called Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. In this last-man-standing TV show, Kitano’s character was renamed “Vic Romano.” Good to know!
Ultimately, I find Battle Royale to be somewhat confusing. Who exactly are these characters? Who is the target demographic for this production? What is this picture even trying to say? I mean, we all know that totalitarian governments are bad already. Takeshi Kitano’s presence makes it watchable, but why should I settle for “watchable?” Creative idea for a plot aside, I can only get so much enjoyment out of a video-gamey movie about junior high school students battling to the death on an island.
My rating is 6 outta 10.