What it's about: In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary "Battle Royale" act.
Review: It's a ruthless idea - forcing kids to fight to the death, all in the name of maintaining control. The intro of the film pieces together the background and reasoning behind the BR act: growing dissension among the youth has caused elder generations to grow afraid of their off-spring. A few scenes in the beginning show young students acting incredibly unruly, even going so far as to cut a teacher's leg. In an attempt to corral and keep the kids under their thumb, the government institutes games under the Millennium Education Reform Act, or more simply, the Battle Royale Act. Focusing on ninth grade students, whole classes are abducted and placed in unknown locations; this time around, it's an uninhabited island. With two wild cards thrown into the mix, it's a free for all where only one can win.Would you turn against your friends as you're told, or would you try to fight back against the government that has sanctioned murder?
The film follows the most recent games (number what of what we have no idea - the film doesn't give any kind of timeline for how long this sort of thing has been going on), where a class of 40 ninth grade students are abducted on a school field trip. All too soon it becomes apparent that the trip was merely a ruse to get them away from the school so that they could be brought to the island. They wake in a dirty, abandoned school building where they are quickly introduced to what they are about to be subjected to: each is wearing a small, metal collar that allows the government to track their movements and vital signs. If the kiddies act bad, such as trying to find a way off the island without committing homicide or attempting to strike back at their persecutors, then there's this option:
After some initial refusal to take part in what all of the students consider to be a very twisted and demented game (and they make their feelings clear, attempting to fight back against the 'grown ups' but are soundly put down by military troops with automatic rifles), they are sent off one by one with a pack of supplies that includes a weapon, and the game begins. The central characters of the story are Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa - Shuya is still reeling from the suicide of his father, who left him orphaned and alone in the world, while Noriko is a sweet, kind girl who is certainly the last person you'd see pulling a knife on someone, even in a battle to the death. The hero and heroine quickly band together and attempt to find a way off the island, instead of fighting and killing their friends: even as their own friends begin to turn on them one by one. The film covers several plot lines that twist around each other and eventually converge into an explosive (literally) climax.
Though the film certainly focuses on students seeking out their significant others, each is different than the last. Some commit suicide rather than participate; others turn on each other out of a need for survival. My favorite was probably a pair that was torn apart through accident and was incredibly heart wrenching - a boy sought out the girl he'd been crushing on for years in an attempt to protect and help her. In return, the girl is so scared of anyone else approaching her that she shoots him, though not after trying to hide and hope that he would simply go away. It's like Romeo and Juliet turned inside out, even though we don't have as much of the back story to really ground the emotional depth. Most of the students are killed off fairly easily, as most don't have combat training or even basic survival skills, though a few groups do their best to find shelter and try to stick together; in the end, their paranoia wins out and everyone finds that they truly cannot trust anyone.
The two wild cards introduced were an interesting addition to a story that could have stagnated very quickly. Shogo Kwada is an older student who's played the game before - knocked out and brought to the island against his will, he's fighting in order to survive, so that the death of his girlfriend (whom he had to kill in order to survive the last game) doesn't become meaningless. Kazuo Kiriyama is a straight up psychopath, a wild card in truth as he signed up for the game merely to indulge in the base pleasure of killing. He proves to be the real obstacle for everyone, as he quickly demolishes anything in his path, collecting a stockpile of weapons and eventually cutting a path of carnage with a machine gun that has a seemingly endless supply of ammunition.
|Merciless, Kiriyama kills everyone who he lays eyes on - even unarmed girls.|
|If that doesn't scream psycho, I don't know what does.|
The ending fizzles out where everything started with a bang. One group of boyseventually creates a bomb with the intention of blowing up the military's island headquaters, hoping that by doing so they can all go home; another group of girls is merely trying to live as normally as possible in a lighthouse across the island. One by one, names flicker across the screen, telling the viewer how many are left to go as it jumps from story line to story line, wrapping them up in unexpected ways. Who will be the winner? The answer isn't all that surprising, and I felt that there were a few questions left unanswered, which are potentially answered in the sequel. Regardless, Battle Royale is definitely a classic, and one that any horror or foreign film fanatic should indulge in.