Plot: Japan currently stands in turmoil with unemployment rates sky rocketing and the country being overpopulated with rebellious children. The Government initiates ‘The BR-Act’ which allows them to select a random class of 9th Graders that are thrown onto an island, given a bag of food, a random weapon and forced to execute one another until there is one definitive survivor. The kids are given a 72 hour time limit in which everyone must be killed except the soul survivor. If not, they all die due to the exploding collars around their necks.
Review: A lot can be said about Kinji Fukasaku’s ‘Battle Royale’. It stirred up ridiculous amounts of controversy in it’s home country of Japan and was banned for a staggering 12 years in North America. It was difficult to get your hands on a theatrical version here in the states unless you ventured online or to places like China Town (exactly where I snagged my copy about six years ago). I don’t remember how ‘Battle Royale’ caught my attention so many years ago but I remember being insanely fascinated by its premise to the point where it was a border line obsession. I remember reading the novel first (a novel that I want to read again, something I rarely do) and then witnessing the film. ‘Battle Royale’ is one of those rare instances where the movie is a loyal adaptation to it’s literature counterpart. That’s not to say ‘Battle Royale’ is perfect, there are some blemishes here and there, but overall this is a film that should be witnessed by anyone with a thirst for violence.
For starters this flick isn’t for everyone. It’s literally about kids killing other kids as well as themselves for a healthy two hours. With that said I’ll explore what’s good about this flick, as theres quite a bit to take appreciation to. For starters the action here is absolutely top notch. Director Fukasaku handles each action sequence with near perfection, utilizing wide shots that capture every second of the action and up the intensity. I was impressed with the action sequences when I first saw this flick about six years ago and impressively enough they still stand tall today. The violence here also deserves recognition, Fuaksaku does not hold back when it comes to showing these kids kill each other. Were treated to everything from kids getting shot with arrows, brutally stabbed, decapitated, blown up, and gunned down. I felt that some of the death sequences flirted with the fine line between “believable” and “unbelievable” but for the most part their done accurately and aren’t to severely over the top when it comes to blood work. It’s not a huge complaint at all, and I can guarantee that plenty of these death scenes will get you jumping in your seat with a certain amount of shock value.
The ‘Battle Royale’ novel boasts a pretty hearty cast of characters, and while the movie generally focuses on the two main leads it does give the supporting characters enough screen time to like them. The two main characters are are Shya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda). Both of these leads fall into the stereotypical good kid category who obviously aren’t down for killing off their classmates but Fujuwara and Maeda do a great job as the leads. Their compassionate and for the most part you can relate to them. Takeshi Kitano plays worn out teacher turned sadistic teacher Kitano. Kitano does a magnificent job as the crazy teacher who’s running this whole thing. It looks like he’s really having fun with the role but you also cared for him in certain points...as odd as that sounds.
While these three cast members did a phenomenal job with their roles, it’s the side characters that really made the movie in my honest opinion. First up is the beautiful Kou Shibasaki as the demented Mitsuko. Mitsuko fascinated me in the novel as she was just screwed up mentally and a female character who was 100% down for gunning down her classmates, I was very excited to see how she transitioned into the film. Shibasaki is a damn fine actress and quite stunning to look at. She really grasps the role of a demented teenage girl who had a troubled childhood (a scene in the Directors Cut explores this and it’s a nice addition). She was sexy and chilling to the core, easily one of my favorite characters in the whole damn movie. The other character I was dying to see was Shogo Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) as the individual thrown back into this competition as a former winner. Yamamoto did a magnificent job as the protector for main leads Shuya and Norkio, he was a complete badass and very likable. Finally there’s the main antagonist Kazuo Kiriyama played to absolute perfection by Masanobu Andô. Kiriyama is the demented individual who actually signed up to participate in this game because he likes killing people and he’s a damn pro at it. The thing that’s so great about Ando’s performance is that he has no lines, everything is in his insane demeanor and his creepy smile. He completely sells the character which I’d imagine to be tough considering he didn’t speak at all. He also comes with a badass theme song that reminds me of Sephiroth from ‘Final Fantasy 7’ which isn’t a bad thing. Easily my favorite male character, when this guy showed up on screen or you heard his music you knew shit was going to go down, you knew this crazy son of a bitch was going to attempt to kill someone and succeed. Pure Excellence.
Now that I’ve covered all that I liked about the flick I’ll touch bases with what didn’t sit to well with me. For starters I would have liked a little bit more back story on some of the other characters. You get a great insight on Shuya and Noriko and even Shogo, but there are a lot of other characters that had some great backstories that could have used a little fine tuning. However, you can’t really blame them because if they went into even half of these characters lives it would have pushed the overall run time to over 2 1/2 hours which could be considered ridiculous. We are given a little insight into the background and some of the talents these students possess and it is better then nothing. My other complaint is the ending. It’s very different compared to the novel but that’s not what bothered me. I don’t want to spoil anything but the ending came off as a bit corny in my opinion which is a shame because everything leading up to it was handled very well.
I was able to also see the Directors Cut of the film which includes eight extra minutes. These eight minutes attempt to address one of my main concerns which was a little more backstory for the other characters but it doesn’t really provide us with anything useful. The only beneficial scene was the one involving Mitsuko and why she’s so damaged in the first place. Everything else seemed kind of unnecessary and honestly seemed to ruin the overall flow of the film. There are also added CGI effects for blood which makes more of the action sequences seem overdone. I’m not saying the Directors Cut is a complete bust, but I suggest watching the theatrical over it. It’s still a fun watch and if your a fan of the flick it demands your viewership.
Overall, ‘Battle Royale’ is a great flick. It’s violent and daring and you will most definitely find something to like about the flick. It has a strong cast of characters who all do a great job for being kids and the action sequences are all handled with perfection. This isn’t a movie for the weak of heart, I’m sure by now that’s more then obvious. If your a parent who saw ‘The Hunger Games’ with your kids and you think this would be a fun movie to sit around the fire and observe as a family, think again. This is literally a movie about kids killing kids and it’s one hell of a fun ride from beginning to end.