Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto, Takeshi Kitano
Words: Katherine Guest
Battle Royale, a Japanese dystopian thriller, is a film in which violence is made into a spectator sport. More specifically, it is about children on children violence as a result of government legislation.
In the nineteen years since its release, the film has gained cult status globally and has been met with critical acclaim. Despite this, it was met with great controversy and did not have a cinematic release in the United States or Canada until eleven years after its release.
Based on the novel of the same name by Koushun Takami, Battle Royale is set following major economic decline and mass unemployment. It’s a satirical, yet bloody and horrible, portrayal of the Japanese government’s fear of and reaction to their malcontent youth. In an effort to restore discipline and cooperation in their young, the ‘BR Act’ is passed; each year, a class of school children is chosen at random. They are sent to an uninhabited island for three days where they are told to kill each other until there is one winner. This is an act of capital punishment on young people for their crimes of disobedience.
The horror of Battle Royale does not lie solely in its gore and violence (which it has in abundance). It explores or references a myriad of teenage issues amongst Class 3-B, who are the unlucky group marooned on the island for the duration of the film. Yes, the aim of the game is survival at the detriment of your friends and classmates. But despite this, the adolescents remain concerned with their friendship groups, unrequited crushes, unfaithful partners, and whether they or their classmates are virgins.
These are a very familiar set of issues interwoven with the contrastingly bleak reality of children forced to brutally murder each other for sport by a disdainful government. In turn, this makes the graphic violence between the children less alien to the viewer, and the dystopian world that much more unsettling.
Given Battle Royale’s cynical attitude to the Japanese government, it’s not entirely unsurprising that the film was criticised by a number of government officials upon its release. Many described the film as ‘crude and tasteless’, and members of the Japanese parliament (unsuccessfully) attempted to ban the film’s release. It was also accused of contributing to crime amongst the youth.
Ironically, this controversy only served to aid the film’s commercial success as the publicity garnered further interest in it. As the story involves children and the actors were largely teenagers themselves, the film was criticised as being harmful to the youth. Due to the film’s rating, under 16s could not view it in cinemas. Despite this, director Fukasaku actively encouraged younger teenagers to sneak into screenings – encouraging the same disobedience that is so grotesquely punished in Battle Royale.
Battle Royale is a blend of the brutal and the banal. It’s a coming of age film with a dystopian horror setting that has gained its cult following for being smart, savage, and thoroughly entertaining.
Who will survive?
Who will turn on their friends?
Who will lose their virginity before they’re brutally murdered?
Class 3-B are about to experience the worst three days of their lives.