Imagine the scene, you are on an island, and it is your life or theirs, only one of you can survive. You may ask why, well because the Government said so. You may also ask why to that statement also, well it’s because you have been naughty, so you have been forced to kill each other. You might not like the idea, well who does, but it’s tough, it’s how the world is these days. Ok not yet, but it could happen, how do I know that? Because a film was produced about it – its name is BATTLE ROYALE.
Now before all the younger people get high on themselves and think this film sounds like a rip-off of The Hunger Games, it’s not. Battle Royale is a Japanese film that was released in 2000 Adapted from a book that was released in 1999 (nine years before The Hunger Games book was released) by Japanese Author Koushun Takami. But before anyone starts going off at The Hunger Games being a possible rip-off of Battle Royale, we can do that later, right now we are talking about Battle Royale the film and not it’s relation to a similar film that was released a year ago.
Based on what is possibly the most controversial book of the 20th century (as the trailer states) Battle Royale is a film about a group of High School Students who are put on an island and forced to kill each other. Yes we can’t really scoot round the controversial subject but despite the films setting, I think this film is one of the most Beautiful films produced to date. As implied in the last paragraph the film is an adaptation of a book by Koushun Takami which went on to become a best seller and was later published worldwide. I myself have not read the book but after watching the film, I really want to. The film upon release was banned in several countries because of its content; this however did not stop it from becoming one of Japan’s top ten highest grossing films. The film itself was directed by Legendary Japanese Director Kinji Fukasaku whose other film credits include Battles Without Honor and Humanity and Graveyard of Honor.
The film opens up with a quick brief synopsis of the setting – “At the dawn of the Millennium, the nation (Japan) collapsed. At 15% Employment, 10 million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The Adults lost confidence and fearing the youth eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act. AKA: The BR Act.”. On a remote unknown island off the coast of Japan a TV Report is talking about an annual event and what happened before spotting a little girl covered in blood in a military jeep………smiling. The film’s opening continues with a quick dialogue from the films protagonist Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who comes home on his first day of 7th grade to find that his father has hung himself leaving a note that says “Go Shuya, you can do it Shuya”. At the school, another pupil by the name of Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) arrives late for class to discover her teacher Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) in the room by himself with a note from the rest of the class stating they are taking the lesson off. Kitano leaves the room only to be attacked by one of the students. About a year later the class goes on a school trip with their new teacher. Noriko gives some cookies to Shuya and his friend Yoshitoki Kuninobu (the one who attacked Kitano). After entering a tunnel, Shuya wakes up on the bus to discover everyone is asleep only to be knocked out by one of the people on the bus.
The Class wakes up in a dark class room with strange metal collars around their necks along with two other people they had not seen before. They look out the window and see soldiers and a helicopter coming in to land. Then to their surprise their old teacher Kitano arrives with the soldiers. The children are ordered to sit down and listen. Kitano introduces the two new comers as Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando). Kitano explains that because the country is no good anymore, the government passed a law known as Battle Royale and tells the class that they all have to kill each other until only one of them is left standing. He then plays a video which explains what is going on. The class have been brought to a deserted island and have three days to kill each other. If after three days more than one person is still alive, they all die thanks to the collars around their necks which are packed with explosives. During the video Kitano kills one of the students for whispering and demonstrates the collars explosive properties on Yoshitoki Kuninobu. The class are also warned about Danger zones which will cause the explosives in their collars to explode if they enter those areas. The class leaves the school one by one as the game begins, each receiving a bag with food, water, a map, compass and a random weapon. Noriko and Nanahara run to a seaside cave. Within the first few hours, the realization of what is happening to them sets in for the class with eight of them being killed by fellow students and four of them commit suicide. During the violence Kiriyama and Mitsuko (Kō Shibasaki) show themselves as the most dangerous in the game.
The following morning Kitano announces where the Danger zones are and who died during the night. Nanahara promises to keep Noriko safe for Kuninobu who had a crush on her. Other students have their own plans of survival. Nanahara has an encounter with a fellow student who is accidently killed with an axe to the head, before encountering Kawada who does not appear to be a killer. However two girls try to make peace with everyone only to be killed by Kiriyama. Noriko and Nanahara continue to explore the island. Several other students have their own plans of survival. Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) tries to hack into the military computers and destroy the system, Hiroki (Sousuke Takaoka) tries to look for his best friend Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama) as well as Kotohiki (Takayo Mimura) who he has a crush on. Chigusa meanwhile kills one of the students who tries to force himself upon her only to be gunned down shortly after by Mitsuko. After sometime exploring the island, Noriko collapses. Nanahara takes her to the island clinic where Kawada tries to make her better and cooks rice for all of them. While there, Kawada mentions that he has been in the game before and tells them the story of how he survived. Kawada says he knows how to get off the island but before he can explain, the group are attacked by Kiriyama. Nanahara gets split up from Noriko and Kawada as he is attacked by Kiriyama. Hiroki comes in to save the day and both he and Nanahara manage to escape.
Nanahara wakes up bandaged in the island lighthouse with Utsumi (Eri Ishikawa) watching over him who explains what has happened over the last 14 hours. Utsumi is one of many in the lighthouse who are preparing to eat some pasta. However one of them tries to poison Nanahara’s food because she saw him kill someone and does not trust him. This backfires however with one of the girls eating Nanahara’s food and dying. The Girls, now paranoid kill each other off except the one who poisoned the food who commits suicide instead. Nanahara eventually returns to Noriko and Kawada. Hiroki manages to find Kotohiki who panics and shoots him, Kotohiki is then killed by Mitsuko who is then killed by Kiriyama. Meanwhile Mimura successfully attacks the military computer and is about to blow the school when Kiriyama attacks and kills his friends. Mimura then detonates the explosives hoping to kill Kiriyama. Kawada, Nanahara and Noriko arrive and manage to kill Kiriyama. Now the only three people left alive, Kawada seemingly turns on the other two. The shots are heard and Kitano decrees that the game is over.
The soldiers leave the island as Kitano is left on the island all alone. He meets Kawada and works out that he deactivated his collar and is about to kill him when Noriko and Nanahara arrive. Kitano shows off a painting he has been doing which shows everyone dead on the island except Noriko. Noriko holds a gun up to him but is unable to pull the trigger, but Nanahara does remembering what his father said. The trio leaves the island with Kawada succumbing to his wounds and Nanahara and Noriko returning to the mainland before going on the run from the authorities.
It is incredible how much depth this film goes into, particularly with the characters. Every character has a back story, emotions, ideas everything. Even if the character is only on-screen for a few minutes or is one of the first to die, the level of depth in that character is fantastic. Of course other characters go more in-depth as they have more of a showing in the film. Not only that but the film uses a lot of flashbacks and previous quotes used by the characters as a method of feeding the audience with the back story. Some of these flashbacks even occur in the game itself, like Chigusa who is seen running in her sports gear before realizing that she is still in the game. Nanahara remembering the last meal he had with his father, Noriko remembering the treatment she got from the other pupils. But don’t forget that these are still children and the attitudes and behaviour of the children also come out as well.
In terms of the cast, some of the minor characters such as Utsumi, Chigusa and Mimura are played excellently and while they may only appear for a short time, those scenes are brilliant. Mimura in particular shows how inventive they can be when facing a major challenge.
Mitsuko on the other hand is a Great psychopath. Pretty much from the start she is revealing how nasty she is. Her weapon is a sign of this as it is a sharp weapon and can only be used in a certain way, but there is a level of childishness in her, particularly in the form of a teenager when it is revealed what she got up to at school. Kiriyama is an excellent character to tie in with this as he is merciless and psychotic too and joins in the game more to have fun and be twisted rather than being in it for another reason. Kawada meanwhile appears to be more dangerous than the previous two as he shows some skill in everything he does. Yet he appears to be somewhat haunted by his past and in some sense wants to be on the island as he is very casual with what is happening and going on. His protective side shows though that he, like many on the island is a caring person.
The main members of the cast though are Noriko, Nanahara and Kitano. Takeshi Kitano (The same Takeshi from Takeshi’s Castle) plays the somewhat twisted head of the program; he announces the Danger zones and is happy with all he does. He does though show some regret with what is happening around him concerning Noriko. There appears to be some form of friendship between the two as he is a teacher just trying to do his job and Noriko appears to be an actually good student compared to the rest of his class. This may show why he painted the picture with Noriko surviving as he may be stating that she is the only one who deserves to live. Noriko meanwhile, during the films exploits appears to play a typical love interest but not a damsel in distress and shows some strengths, including pointing the Gun at Kitano in the end. She is an extremely good friend to those around her and cares a lot about them. Nanahara on the other hand is an increasingly strong character throughout who seems close to unstoppable as his injuries progress but he keeps going. However he does still have emotional issues with the suicide of his father and finds it tough to keep going, but he does so for the sake of both his friend Kuninobu and Noriko.
Of course one thing that can’t be overlooked is the blood splatter which is used regularly in the film in several ways with the most frequent being guns. The extreme graphics of these scenes may appear to be gruesome but in some way they are necessary in order to show the seriousness of the situation. The film also has its own little charms of trying to get the best out of a horrible situation, the main example of this being the instruction video (WARNING: May Not Be Suitable Viewing for a Younger Audience, much like the entire film).
The film is beautifully shot. Many scenes show the great expanse of the island and in some scenes it is hard to see it as an island but the areas of the island kind of tell the story of the island, what kind of place it was once like to live on before it was turned into an island of death. The film’s camera work also makes great use of weather and horizons with the colour in some scenes showing what time of day it is and it is through this that the film shows the timescale of the event. The use of rain also has its uses for representing low mood scenes and scenes of happiness too, something that doesn’t usually occur in rain scenes. But possibly the films best shots are at the end of the film when the game is over. Kitano exercising outside the school, on the boat, the view of the island and Noriko and Nanahara running away through the streets of Tokyo. It brings a calm essence to the end of what is a horrible event in the lives of those who have lived it.
The film’s soundtrack is another major element of this film. While most of the film’s soundtrack was produced by Masamichi Amano, the film uses a great amount of work from accomplished composers and is used frequently in the film. The film’s main theme is Verdi’s Requiem which is used as the title music and the music on the trailer. It shows a great amount of impact in the scenes that it is used in and also signifies how bad things are probably going to become. Other pieces of music include Radetzky March (composed by Johann Strauss), The Blue Danube (by Johann Strauss II), Auf dem Wasser zu singen (by Franz Schubert) and Air on the G String (by Johann Sebastian Bach). Most of these are used for the announcement parts of the film from Kitano but they do add a sense of scale and announcement to the scene and are some of my Favourite parts of the film, the temptation to stand up and wave my hands round like a conductor is hard to suppress. The pieces produced by Masamichi Amano offer a sense of something different and add a bit more culture to the music.
The general soundtrack as a whole is brilliant from the beginning. The general soundtrack offers many variations depending on the scene particularly towards the end where the soundtrack, like the scenes do offer some contemplation to what has happened.
While the plot of the film maybe controversial in what it is doing, it is an incredible film. It has several scenes where there are nice happy things going on, people trying to make the best out of what time they have left. While some fight to survive, some of them are doing it because they have something to fight for. But when it comes to some flashback scenes as well as some of the other nice happy scenes, it shows there is more to this film than meets the eye. While many will say that this film is nothing more than a gore fest with lots of blood; those who have seen it can say more than that. Yes it may be more of a horror film than anything else, but this film does represent how important life is, it represents the strong fight for survival against those who seek to take it away and represents how powerful the human spirit can be and also shows how important friendship is.
While many will probably avoid watching this film due to its setting as well as its content; I am exceedingly happy that I have seen this film. While the battle will probably rage on about what being a rip off of what, to me this will remain one of the Best Films I have seen. It has a great story, brilliant scenes, wonderful character, amazing effects and fantastic ideas. In cinema there are very few times when a film comes out which touches your heart in such a way that makes you happy, but every once in a while one is produced, and Battle Royale is one of those times. I can say with pride and much happiness how much I have enjoyed the experience. Thank you Koushun Takami, Thank you Kinji Fukasaku, Thank you for BATTLE ROYALE.