Sunday, April 1, 2012

Day 347 - Battle Royale

Battle Royale (2001) directed by Kinji Fukasaku

In Battle Royale children are forced by the government to kill each other in a game of survival until one person remains. If this plot sounds familiar it should; it is essentially the original Hunger Games, which has been accused of being a rip-off of this Japanese film and the novel that inspired it. The similarities are striking, but there are enough differences to make each story uniquely its own. But I think most importantly it should be noted that Battle Royale is not entirely unique in itself. People being forced to fight each other to the death has gone as far back as the Romans with their gladiators and colosseums. The difference here is that it involves children. You'd be surprised just how sick the human mind is. That two separate people could come up with this idea independently shouldn't be surprising at all.

In the world of Battle Royale, children have gotten out of control. In order to pacify them and to demonstrate their power the government has come up with the idea for Battle Royale, where they select a classroom at random, place the kids on a deserted island and force them to kill each other until one remains. There are 42 kids in all which means plenty of gruesome death scenes, but also a lot of characters to keep track of. This may sound racist, but they all have funny names and they all look the same! Obviously many of the kids are only there for their inevitable death scenes but the film does a decent job in giving many of them personalities and back stories. Luckily only a few of them are really important, but even the ones we do focus on can be hard to remember at times.

Other than being a violent exploitation film, Battle Royale also captures teenage adolescence well as the characters bring their school problems out to the battlefield including petty jealousy, puppy love and (obviously exaggerated) high school drama backstabbing and gossip. The battlefield can almost be seen as an extension of high school itself. One scene involves a group of girls who swear to not kill anybody and live together peacefully till the end until one accidentally kills another causing an escalating scene of accusation and infighting breaking the group apart until inevitable violence. Imagine any clique of girls you remember from high school and the drama of one of them stealing another's boyfriend, but with guns. Perhaps it isn't a coincidence that they choose a deserted island as a setting for the Hunger Games, errr, Battle Royale. Put a bunch of people together on a deserted island and watch them all turn into savages, where normal kids suddenly turn into killers. The breakdown of civilization and the innate savagery of man is straight out of Lord of the Flies.

This point always makes me wonder. Why are there always psychos in these films that are so eager to kill when just one hour ago they are normal kids? I know the whole idea is to prove the innate beast in man, but you can never really take these stories seriously when the characters' taste for violence reaches cartoon levels. Of course this is done purposely so we can establish clear heroes and villains, but I think the villains take far too much joy in their roles. But that is generally the whole appeal of Battle Royale, a vehicle for sensationalized violence and with 42 kids fighting for their lives you can expect a lot of it, though it isn't nearly the comical bloodfest of say Kill Bill.

Overall this is a pretty unique and generally awesome movie. The violence is sort of out there and in your face, but it is done with a certain style and grace, making it feel almost poetic. I enjoyed the film despite the lack of focus towards the end where it gets a little convoluted and complicated. But don't let that distract you from the glorious first parts of the film where all mayhem breaks loose. I suppose you're wondering what movie is better, Battle Royale or The Hunger Games. Yes, they are indeed similar, not just in plot but in theme as well, but they are different enough that they can be judged without being compared to each other. I think the primary difference is in the characters themselves. The strength of The Hunger Games is in the strong central protagonist Katniss. This is unfortunately a weakness of Battle Royale. Yes we get a wider variety of characters to get to know, but we never are able to know any particular one of them well enough to get that sense of attachment we do with Katniss. I think on a purely cinematic level Battle Royale is actually better, but as far as storytelling goes, I prefer The Hunger Games, though much of that may have to do with the fact that I read the books.

Grade: B

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