Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Written by Kenta Fukasaku based on the novel by Koushun Takami
(number 244)

When this movie came out I saw it at the film festival… or maybe the incredibly strange film festival. I can’t really remember, but it blew my mind.

Mostly when I talk about this movie these days it’s to disagree that Hunger Games isn’t just a remake of it. There are similarities, obviously, but I don’t believe that it’s like watching the same movie. Hunger Games is about a woman being thrown almost friendless into a hugely hostile game show and eventually leading a country wide revolution. Battle Royale is about teenagers thrown into a death island with their friends and is a much smaller story – much more personal/emotional than world changing.

The characters are some of them friends, some of them frenemies and some are boyfriend and girlfriend. They bring all sorts of emotional connections and baggage with them onto the island, it all feeds into how they act and react. In the Hunger Games there are no voluntary suicides, no declarations of how no one can possibly kill another. In Battle Royale you have to deal with all of these things.

The movie is a strange balance between silly/jokey violence and real pathos and I think that’s why it works so well to be honest. You sort of laugh at the start, like, how ridiculous – the training video girl is so genki, but at the same time it’s truly brutal. You sort of forget what they’re actually into until the teacher just starts killing them in cold blood. It’s jarring, and strange and bizarre.

All through the movie we are constantly meeting new classmates, seeing little flashbacks to how they used to relate to each other. There’s a lot of ‘do you have a crush on anyone?’, little stolen looks, family tragedy and pain. Especially for Nanahara, whose mother died and then he came home to find his father had hung himself.

This is generally a smaller story than Hunger Games, and the impact of what happens is a lot smaller as well. They escape an island and kill some people, but nothing about the system is changed or even challenged. We know that the students’ parents were told that they were selected for the BR programme, and there’s no indication at all that the parents had any complaints or challenges to the regime. When Nanahara and Nakagawa escape to the mainland again they are revealed as ‘wanted for murder’ with the implication being that they are on the lam and alone in the world. I haven’t seen the sequel, and it’s not on the 500 list but I’m sort of tempted to watch it now.

Does it make me love the people? Oh yes, the lead characters are so very endearing. You root for them, and you root for the kids who don’t want to kill and you root for the nice ones. Nanahara and Nakagawa the boy and girl who are given terrible weapons and stick together to stay alive. Kawada, who has survived the battle before and has been held back in school so they can redeploy him.

Bechdel test: Yes, many times over actually but especially in the scene where a bunch of girls are in the kitchen making food and being cute and then one of them puts poison in the food and they all start accusing each other of being the poisoner. They mention crushes on boys v briefly but for the most part it’s just really cute and real conversation.

It gave me a mad need to do Japanese radio calisthenics….

Best line:
Mitsuko: What’s wrong with killing? Everyone’s got their reasons.

State of Mind: It’s deeper, nastier and a little less fun than I remember. I think that’s mostly a testament to how much my tastes have changed since 2000 and I’m okay with it. It’s a great film though, the random cuts to a sentence or two about how someone is feeling or thinking are gorgeous. I still really enjoy it and I am tempted to watch the sequels

Watched movie count

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