Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Koushun Takami (novel), Kenta Fukasaku (screenplay)
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda and Tarô Yamamoto
Yakuza film director Kinji Fukasaku takes on a younger crowd in his violently entertaining Battle Royale as a randomly selected class of high school students are forced to kill each other off on an isolated island. In an all-out war against youth crime and violence, the state uses violence itself to solve the problem, letting fear run rampant amongst kids who remain concerned about crushes and how cute they are when they’re bleeding to death. Playing with the fear that adults, media, and the state have over youth culture, Fukasaku’s Battle Royale delivers a tasty satirical massacre that is ultimately melodrama coated in blood, wearing kinky school girl outfits.
Shuya (Fujiwara) sees the fall of Japan through the lazy, distanced eyes of a teenager. With a major economic downturn, the youth grow increasingly out of control, and parents – including Shuya’s own father – find it easier to bail as soon as possible. The government responds to this unrest with a piece of legislation that forces a group of young students to take each other out on a secluded island. Each student is provided with a bag containing a map of the island, one weapon (ranging from guns to pot pans), food, and a torch in case they have trouble finding each other in the dark. While some students cling to the hope of being rescued, others find it easier to commit suicide, and of course there are those who have the killer instinct. Shuya and his crush Noriko (Maeda) team up with a mysterious transfer student on the island, but whether they can trust him or anyone else for that matter, is a dangerous game of deceit and ambiguous morals.
As Battle Royale spans three days of high-schooler hunting, we as an audience are treated to what feels like a gladiator arena. The film keeps score of the surviving contenders by flashing numbers and names on the screen, punctuated with eerily provocative memories and thoughts that come in the form of simple title cards or flashbacks. Through these nostalgic turns to the past, the students not only reflect upon their better days but also relate these experiences to their present fear and anxiety. Feelings of yearning, sadness, loneliness, and love course through Battle Royale as often as the violent outbursts of gunfire and explosions. It is a passage to adulthood – a little twisted and unnecessarily brutal, but nevertheless a transition to a more mature understanding of life and love.
As friendships are tested and old rivalries are settled over sickles and stun guns, Battle Royale also satirizes teen angst and the intense emotions that run through adolescent blood. Entertaining, punchy, and confident in its handling of action scenes, Battle Royale is a fascinating mix of violence, sentimentality, and often, humor.