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Battle Royale (2000)

-Review by Nic Brown-

Could you kill your best friend? How about your girlfriend or the boy you had a crush on in school? If your own life were at stake, could you kill not just some random person, but people you know, maybe even love? The Japanese film BATTLE ROYALE asks these questions and many more as it takes the viewer into a nightmarish vision of the not so distant future.


It is the new millennium and Japan is caught in a downward social spiral. Unemployment is out of control, social unrest is high, and perhaps most disturbingly of all, the youth of the nation have lost all respect for authority and are rebelling. The Japanese government comes up with an unusual and unbelievably brutal method for coping with the youth problem: Battle Royale.


Troubled ninth grade classes are selected by lottery to participate in the annual event. The students are kidnapped and dropped onto a small deserted island off the coast of Japan. There each student has a monitoring collar fitted and are told the rules: only one student can survive the 72 hour contest. If more than one student is alive at theend of the time, then all the collars explode killing everyone. The students are released one at a time. Each is given a bag with a few supplies including a randomly selected weapon. The lucky students get machine guns, knives and swords. The less fortunate students get things that can hardly be called weapons - metal pot lids, binoculars, and paper fans. Whatever the weapon, once they leave the orientation, the fight for survival begins.


The idea is simple and the contest is brutal. Some students give up and commit suicide; some form alliances to try and find a way out of the unwinnable situation. A few embrace the violence and relish in the chance to indiscriminately kill. Most just do what they can to survive. The film focuses mainly on Shuya (boy # 15) and Noriko (girl # 15). Shuya loves Noriko and vows to protect her through the contest, but even if he succeeds in saving her until the very end, they both know the bitter truth that only one student can survive or they all die.


BATTLE ROYALE is a controversial film. Based on the best selling novel of the same name, the Japanese government tried to ban first the book and then the film. As is often the case, their efforts to prevent the material’s release only served to increase the appeal of BATTLE ROYALE as the public became curious to see what all the fuss was about.


The film is more than just a blood and gore fest as the Japanese Government might like the public to believe. The way each of the students deals with the contest comes across realistically. These are not hardened criminals; they are ninth graders and in many ways they continue to act as such even after the killing starts. The film also manages to give many of the characters more depth then one might expect from a film like this. This is especially true for one of the movie’s few prominent adults: Kitano sensei (Bito “Beat” Takeshi). It is his former class that is selected for the Battle Royale and he is selected to oversee the contest.


BATTLE ROYALE is a wild ride filled with violence and dark humor. It is not a film for the weak of heart, but for those who can stomach the subject matter and the associated gore, BATTLE ROYALE is a film well worth watching. It is entertaining and at the same time thought provoking, a combination that Hollywood often tries for, but rarely achieves. So check out BATTLE ROYALE, and remember you can’t trust anyone in Battle Royale, especially your friends.

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