Japanese cinema has always had a unique feel to it. From the days of Akira Kurosawa, to gore infested torture films, such as Grotesque. It’s the 2000 action-suspense film Battle Royale however, that caught my interest from the moment I heard about it. I first found out about it in an old issue of Terrorizer back in 2003. The article didn’t explain to much about it, just that it involved a bloody fight to the death among teenagers. It also was described as a modern day “Video Nasty”, due to it being banned in the United States for years after its’ release, following the Columbine school shootings in April of 1999. If you tell someone somethings been banned due to its’ content, they’re going to want it just a little bit more.
The story surrounds a group of Japanese students, who have been drugged while en route to a field trip. Taken custody by the military, and their sadistic teacher, they are forced to partake in a 3 day fight to the death known as “Battle Royale.” There must be only one left after this gladiatorial struggle, if not: all of them will die. This is a state sponsored program, to keep the large student body of Japan in its’ place. Resembling an oppressive police state, the Japan of Battle Royale intends to keep its’ members to be kept in line, and forbidden to question or challenge authority in any way.
The students themselves, are a cross section of what one might find in any school. These are NOT the kids from Red Dawn. They’re shy, awkward, and most of them are completely afraid of what awaits them. A few of them are quick to adapt to the mindset needed to survive such an ordeal. They become the vindictive predators of this contest. Some cannot deal with what lies before them, and simply end their own lives. A great many of them cannot adapt quick enough, and don’t last long.
In a lot of ways, this story blends elements of Lord Of The Flies and The Most Dangerous Game. The suspense,terror and thrill of the hunter and the hunted. The loss of innocence, as well as the journey from civilization to savagery. As the bloodshed intensifies, their teacher keeps a birds eye view of the situation alongside the military. Taking somewhat of a perverse pleasure, much like Nero in the Colosseum. In some ways, he represents the audience viewing this film. He is the voyeur. As I have mentioned once before, film is the ultimate form of voyeurism.
The 3 days eventually come to an end, and the tournament is eventually won. Although there is a victory, it’s not the outcome one might be expecting to see. Nothing really changes, and the cycle of authoritarian oppression and misinformation continue.