Battle Royale Review

Crazed governments and their accepted mania have made for a narrow, fascinating avenue of art. It is a worrying gaze to take on, but Battle Royale brought promise to the genre of shady governments pushing down on citizens who couldn’t do anything to stop them. Oppressive dystopias gone wild once again. Its terrors of compulsory education are made clear, and even then it manages to turn old and reliable friends against one another almost immediately. That is the tense brilliance Kinji Fukasaku brings to the screen here, a story of impressionable teens doing battle against one another. Their tense fight for survival reflects the fear adults have of their attitudes and their abilities as rebellious teens, and if this is what they can do to one another, then surely, they must fear what these teens can do to the generations above.

Reactionary politics are the backstory given to Battle Royale. Adults feared those that rebelled against education, and the strict reformation that followed builds up the inevitably tense bubble of murderous horrors. True to the point of Battle Royale is the swift uptake of violence. If that is their response to a recession, then they are surely not prepared for other tasks of governance. Embodying that lack of preparation so well is Takeshi Kitano’s portrayal of Kitano. He is the man who finds difficulty in connecting not just with his students, but with his own children. An unhinged performance from Kitano gives an uncomfortably tense introduction to the basics of Battle Royale, and there is a disgusting humour to it all. It’s Takeshi’s Castle but with Uzi’s instead of Craig Charles.

“Life is a game,” Kitano says. Is it, now? A rather chilling game crafted by Fukasaku, whose value as a director of entertainment never steals the spotlight from its totalitarian themes of terror. How fast would we turn on our friends and family if that was our only chance of freedom? Very quickly, apparently. It is the fight or flight nature of sudden scenarios such as this. Battle Royale gets to that very quickly, and its build-up is magnificent. How fast these students turn on one another, and how bitingly brilliant it is. There is a slight layer of humour to it all, in some sickeningly dead-eyed way. There is nothing but terror all around, but the situation they find themselves in is farcical and terrifying. It is why the stunned reactions of the students work so well. They can hardly believe it, and nor can the audience watching the catastrophe unfold.

Fukasaku develops the relationship between his characters while they do battle with one another. Flashbacks are a necessity here, for we get a feel of who these people were before and after they tried to hack and slash one another to bits. Certainly not the influence of The Hunger Games, definitely not. Identical they may be, Battle Royale has the sense to leave its audience wanting more not through its incredibly well-designed violence, but through its solid world-building and backstory. We are shown the relationship between these characters, and they are believable because they are so seemingly average. There is tragedy underlining each and every one of them, yet so few are readily connected to because we cannot be expected to like all of them. Some are just devoid of emotion, while others thrive on the hunt. Battle Royale shows both sides are flawed, but entertainingly so.

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