The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #7 – Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #7:

The Ecstasy of BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

br1As we hit the end of our first E&A week, it’s Mark Pidgeon’s turn to tackle a film he just can’t get enough of. Here, Marky Mark picks iconic J-shocker Battle Royale to marinate in his love-filled juices…

Being part of UKHS has been a real pleasure for much of this past year. It’s given me ample real estate and freedom to express opinions, to direct readers towards great movies and, hopefully, to steer them away from a few not so good ones. Being involved has been an amazing opportunity, and in the process I have made some great friends who I hope are around for as long as I am!

As writers we rarely get the chance to wax lyrical about the things that we truly love; the movies that are for most us the reason we became critics and genre-based writers in the first place. That film for is Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 opus Battle Royale.

The premise is simple: the forty-two classmates of class 3B are shipped to a government appointed island. They are given three days, armed with limited supplies, weaponry and given a chilling ultimatum: kill or be killed.

Underneath this skeletal idea is a story rife with political and sociological commentary; the way that both Koshun Takami – whom penned the original novel, and Fukasaku saw the state of Japan heading at the turn of the millennium. It’s an Orwellian swansong: a terrifying premonition of the actions arbitrated by a fearful government and the struggles that young people will go on to face on a daily basis.

br3Many can argue that this is not in fact a horror movie but let me shatter that misconception with this proposal: imagine if you, dear reader, stepped into this scenario. Face your colleagues, face your friends with the orders to kill them all without the ability to refuse. Tell me that isn’t scary. All of this because a totalitarian government feels it cannot handle the teenagers of its nation; crime rates, increased civil disobedience and the lengths that people with power will go to in order to “protect” a nation is laid out and controlled through the ultimate fear-inducing act. Big brother is always watching.

The film focuses on a small group of the students, making it easier to follow and thus allowing the runtime to flesh out the characters; their moral standpoints, their personalities and their fears as they face as much uncertainty as the viewer does. Main character Shuya Nanahara [Tatsuya Fujiwara] is coping with his father’s suicide. Through flashback, we see his strife and later on his morals are the driving point against the corruption at hand, whereas Takako’s [Chiaki Kuriyama] reckless and psychotic nature is the perfect counterbalance. It’s the personification of the Battle Royale program and the closest thing we get to a total villain in the movie.

Dreams, ambitions and desires all unfold as each student tackles the hardships in his or her own way Alliances are formed. Students plummet to their deaths in planned suicides to avoid participation, and bullies, victims and cliques are all pushed to the very edge of their psyche.

Another underlining threat which touches upon the voyeurism on display is from the excellent Takeshi Kitano’s character, the class teacher -note the authoritative figure being a spearhead in this campaign- who watches his students strife nonchalantly. It’s eerie. Really eerie.

br2Battle Royale left an impression on me that has lasted for fourteen years and has led to numerous revisits of this wonderfully rich, paranoid and ultimately heartfelt tale of teenagers against the odds. My own real life fears make this as much a centrepiece of my collection as does its defining of my taste in genre cinema.

I first stumbled across this film while working in a video store upon its DVD release. Already being familiar with the Tartan Asia Extreme label and a devout fan of Asian splatter cinema, I initially expected much of the same only to have my whole world lifted. Battle Royale took my mind and scattered it all over the floor and allowed me to see cinema in a whole new light. Other than Blade Runner I don’t think that a movie has had me think for days after a viewing, or offered something new in each subsequent watch.

Since its release a number of real world incidents have cemented the fears that are presented here as satire have now taken a whole new symbolic reference point for our own societies in 2014, this will only increase as time moves on and real world fears surmount.

Music is the most important part of a feature for me, in some cases turning a bad movie into a good one and vice versa! Battle Royale is perfectly scored from the outset, with an ominous outpouring of Verdi’s Requiem Dies Irae setting things off beautifully. It grabs me sonically, before even a frame has unfolded. The whole soundtrack perfectly captures the atmosphere, adding monumental emotion to an already volatile mix. Revisiting the soundtrack alone elicits the same response emotionally as watching the film, my mind filling in the scenes or making feelings arise without asserting them.

br4Another thing that resonates with me is that director Fukasaku loved cinema. Making movies was his lifelong passion and the fact he did so until his final days is a true testament to living your dreams and never giving up. Battle Royale was his last film and the perfect end to an already illustrious career. The fact that the film finishes as it does showcases that, in spite of the hardships presented, freedom and friendship will always prevail; the stuff all worth fighting for.

Violent, challenging, chaotic and rewarding, Battle Royale is a perfect movie. Let it wash over and seep into your very being; devour it’s rich black humour whilst struggling along with the forty-two ill fated students.
*******

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

An Interview with Director Paul Hough (The Human Race) by Andy Deen

HUMAN 001Paul Hough (The Human Race) Interview by Andy Deen .

The Human Race (2013) Synopsis and brief review.

Veronica suddenly finds herself in a surreal and horrifying marathon race. The rules are simple: If you are lapped, you die. If you step off the path, you die. Many will start but only one may cross the finish line alive.

The Human Race is a full paced action thriller , where 80 people have suddenly been transported from a block in America into some sort of compound. They are all hearing a voice (their own) in their head which explains the rules to them and as each person dies the voice counts down from 80.

 

Where are they? How did they all get there? And who will be the last survivor and ultimately the winner?

 

I suppose there is an immediate comparison to Battle Royale , and yes I can see that but Human Race does have a wider character pool . Everything does tick along nicely and you can see just where The Human Race is headed, but things are not what they seem and through some very good and brave writing and a brilliant ending we see The Human Race rise above a typical “winner kill all” thriller into an intelligent genre film that I really enjoyed.

 

Please excuse me not delving too deeply into the synopsis or review but please watch The Human Race and enjoy all the twists and turns of a great race 7.5/10.

 

 

Eddie McGhee & Paul McCarthy-Boyington

Eddie McGhee & Paul McCarthy-Boyington

HI Paul , welcome to UK Horror Scene.

 

Thanks! I’m a big fan of your site!

 

UKHS) Your father John Hough is an acclaimed director (and producer) of many genre films including Twins of Evil, The Legend of Hell House, American Gothic,The Watcher in the Woods (with the great Bette Davis) and Incubus (I read the Ray Russell novel last week – fate?) just to name a few. How was it growing up with John as a father and did you ever ‘go to work with Dad’ ?

 

PH) It was terrific. He is a wonderful father and very supportive. When I was younger he would play football every week in a local team. I’d go with him and watch and at some point he realized I was bored watching. So he gave me his 8mm camera and taught me how to use it. Then, every weekend I’d make a film. Always a horror film and usually always the same plot of friends going to a park and being killed off one by one by a monster.

 

 

Fred Coury & Paul McCarthy- Boyington

Fred Coury & Paul McCarthy- Boyington

UKHS) Probably already known from the question above, but how and why did you get into filmmaking? Is it in the genes?

 

PH) My dad certainly was a big inspiration and I think it was certainly inherent in me to make films. I love movies. And I love making movies. When I was 16 at my school in London I made my first feature length film which was called A Frightmare On Elm Street – my take on an Elm Street movie – about a young American Freddy Krueger who comes to England to attend school – and then kills of his schoolmates one by one.

 

 

T. Arthur Cottam

T. Arthur Cottam

UKHS) You have 2 short films (End of the Line & The Angel) and a wrestling documentary (The Backyard) to your name . Please can you tell us a little about these.

 

PH) The Angel is up on youtube and stars both Eddie McGee and Celine Tien who I then worked with in Human Race. It is a short horror/sci-fi with a Twilight Zoney sort of twist. The Backyard is a pretty violent documentary that is about kids who wrestle in their gardens using weapons such as lightbulbs, barbed wire laced kendo sticks, thumbtacks and glass. The movie took an approach that presented their actions without making judgements – thus was pretty controversial. When we first screened at a festival someone actually fainted because of one of the scenes we shot in England to do with blading (where participants cut themselves with razors for bloody effect!)

 

 

BOOM - Head Explosion!!

BOOM – Head Explosion!!

UKHS) Right on to The Human Race. What was the inspiration behind the film ?

 

PH) I’d got so close to making some studio horror films after making The Angel – but without success. There was only so long I could go without actually making a movie and so one Christmas my brother told me I just need to make something – which ultimately led to The Human Race.

 

UKHS) How long did it take from inception to completion ? And what were the biggest hurdles to overcome?

 

PH) Well, we started the shoot in 2009. And so it was a 3-4 year shoot. This was essentially because I didn’t have enough money to shoot more than a few days at a time. During this time Hunger Games (which people compare the movie too) was announced, shot and actually came out. It was certainly difficult to get all the actors together – but ultimately – the hardest thing was to find the money to keep shooting.

 

 

Trista Robinson, Paul McCarthy Boyington & Eddie McGee

Trista Robinson, Paul McCarthy Boyington & Eddie McGee

UKHS) There will be (well it is on the DVD cover) comparisons to Battle Royale , and maybe to a lesser degree The Long Walk. How do you feel about this? And were you inspired along the way by any particular films?

 

PH) The brilliance of Battle Royale made a huge impact on me and inspired me a lot in the making of The Human Race. What someone sticks on the DVD cover is purely to try and sell the film. Admittedly it’s a great quote and the outlet that expressed it was genuine in their intention, but Battle Royale will never be matched. This is not a remake or retelling in anyway of Battle Royale. I’m getting a lot of personal backlash and hate mail over that quote but people should realize that I’m the filmmaker not the marketer of the movie. Inevitably The Human Race will and has been compared to other movies but I would like to think that The Human Race stands on it’s own, and has it’s own uniqueness and originality. As far as The Long Walk I haven’t read it nor was aware of it when making The Human Race. Another inspiration for me was my friend Eddie McGee – one of the leads in the movie. He has one leg and I thought if I’m going to stick him in a horror movie – what would be the one thing that would torture him the most – and that was having to run. Not just a little bit – but run in a marathon with one leg. I guess that was the real genesis of the concept.

 

 

Trista Robinson and Jonica Patella

Trista Robinson and Jonica Patella

UKHS) Where was the Human Race filmed? And where is the facility that was used in the film, which was a fantastic location?

 

PH) It was filmed in California. We filmed for seven days in a shut down youth correctional facility – before losing all the rest of our locations. So then a lot of the movie actually took place in my house – since over the marathon of the shoot that was the only location I could guarantee access to.

 

 

 

Gabriel Cullen

Gabriel Cullen

UKHS) The cast were very strong , with of course an amazing lead from Eddie McGee. It felt like the characters were a cross-section of American society. How difficult was this to write and then cast?

 

PH) I really love the cast. And most of them were friends of mine before the shoot, since dealing with such a low budget it was easier for me to write for people I actually knew. Yeah, it’s a real cross-section of American society and culture. Certainly not everyone is nice and most of them actually share vastly different views and perspectives on life than myself. But it was important for me to write for them and not just create cookie-cutter characters.

 

 

Trista Robinson

Trista Robinson

UKHS) One thing that personally stood out for me was the sound. Both the score and the actual audial effects were brilliant. Can you tell me a little about the people behind that?

 

PH) The music was all original composed by Marinho Nobre – who also did my short film The Angel – and is a composer I see myself working with for the rest of my life. He is just brilliant. The effects were placed and sound mixed by Richard Gale, who is a director friend of mine. In our first week of shooting Richard (director of the cult The Horribly Slow Murderer With The Extremely Inefficient Weapon) came to help out by being an extra. As the shoot progressed and certain actors didn’t turn up I thought that he would also make a great evil character – so I wrote a role for him. He is the one who pushes a great deal of people onto the grass and responsible for really whittling away the numbers and increasing the headless body count.

 

 

Wide head shot

Wide head shot

UKHS) I believe I read somewhere that you had to learn your own visual effects along the way. Is this true and throughout the filming process what other skills did you learn or develop?

 

PH) I ended up having to do about 50% of the visual effects myself due to lack of budget. So I learned a programme called After Effects from scratch. This was a low budget movie and there was no choice. Even on the shoot the actors would have to move lights and carry stuff. Everyone pitched in big time. But ultimately too it created a real sense of teamwork. There were no trailers and actually at the correctional facility no bathroom or running water. So we had to use a bucket.

 

 

Eddie McGhee

Eddie McGhee

UKHS) I won’t mention anything as I abhor spoilers , but I loved the ending and thought it was a very brave move. Was the ending ever an issue when developing The Human Race? 

 

PH) I hate spoilers too. One of the things that just got to me was in some of the “supposed” critical reviews the ending was given away. If you try to read up on the movie before seeing it the entire movie will be spoiled. Personally I love not knowing what is going to happen next – and in The Human Race – that concept it at it’s core of what makes the movie unique and exciting because you never know what’s going to happen next – or who is going to die next. The larger scale ending was actually the first thing I came up with but who would win The Human Race is something that actually changed through the shooting process. When it came down to the final two I nearly changed it again. But I love unpredictability in movies and personally love how the movie ends.

 

 

Paul McCarthy Boyington, & Eddie McGee

Paul McCarthy Boyington, & Eddie McGee

UKHS) What were the highs and lows of making The Human Race? Any particular moments that really stand out?

 

PH) A huge high right now is that my sister walked in to HMV a few days ago and the movie was #2 in the charts there. And it’s currently #1 in horror in the UK on iTunes. Through the course of screening the movie at festivals I got to have dinner with Dario Argento. A few days ago I did a book signing (as part of a book I’m a contributor on called Hidden Horror) alongside William Lustig. I’m on cloud 9 as far as how the vast majority of people are reacting to the movie especially considering all the blood, sweat and tears I and the rest of the crew and cast put into it.

 

 

Eddie McGee

Eddie McGee

UKHS) So what is next? Are you in the process of a next feature and any exclusives you can let our readers in on?

 

PH) An exclusive – sure. John Cairns (director of Schoolgirl Apocalypse), who I met at The Human Race’s premiere at Fantasia, wrote one of the best scripts I’ve ever read and I’m hoping that it will be my next movie.

 

 

UKHS) Thank you Paul for your time. It has been a real pleasure ! 

 

Please check out The Human Race which is available from all UK DVD retailers and please check out the following links.

The Human Race FACEBOOK PAGE

The Angel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4OuxjgknHQ
UK Itunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/the-human-race/id815301640

 

All pictures courtesy of Paul Hough !

 

 

The Human Race (2013) DVD Review

HUMAN 001THE HUMAN RACE (2013) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Paul McCarthy-Boyington, Eddie McGee, Trista Robinson, Brianna Lauren Jackson

Written by: Paul Hough

UK Certification: 19

UK RRP: £12.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 84 minutes

Directed by: Paul Hough

UK Release Date: 3rd March 2014

Only one will win. The school, the house, the prison are safe. Follow the arrows or you will die. Stay on the path or you will die. If you are lapped twice you will die. Do not touch the grass or you will die. Race or die. This is the ominous spoken introduction to Paul Hough’s ambitious sci-fi / horror film that while aiming high, it never quite reaches those dizzying heights to which the cover professes “Battle Royale has found its worthy successor”.

HUMAN 002We’re introduced swiftly to snippets of people’s ordinary lives. There is Veronica who learns that she is in remission from the deadly disease that killed her family. There are two soldiers struggling to keep each other alive in the hot days and cold nights of the desert atmosphere. There is Eddie (McGee) who has just been woken up at the house of a woman he’s unfamiliar with. Several people, seemingly unconnected, although it’s not long before we find them in the same environment.

That environment is that of an intense race in which 80 people are plucked out of their daily lives only to wake up in a competition. All the time we can hear a voice counting down from 80 each time someone dies by either diverting from the route or by ignoring any of the rules which seem implanted into each unwilling competitors head. Gradually as the initial panic of the situation subsides, they discover that the only way that they can triumph is to work together or fight each other off.

The Human Body is as much about human behaviour as it is about trying to survive an impossible situation. We frequently observe differing viewpoints on society, from the cynical “what kind of world is that woman going to bring her child into” to other folk going out of their way to help those less fortunate and disadvantaged. Similarly, the people that we’re rooting for here aren’t the archetypal heroes – the deaf couple, the elderly veteran, the amputee.

HUMAN 003The ideas behind this movie are difficult to cast any critical negativity over as there’s a lot to admire, especially on such a limited budget as this. That said, I feel that the movie does suffer from a level of ambition that is beyond the tools that Paul Hough had at his disposal. Is it worth checking out? Hell yeah, it certainly provides you with 90 minutes of thought-provoking entertainment that few other genre movies will offer this year. Have we found a worthy successor to Battle Royale? Of course not, that’s just another eye-rolling cover quote, we have though found something intelligent and provocative which are two attributes that any film should be proud to have.

5.5 out of 10

Battle Royale (2000) Review

Battle1Battle Royale (2000)

 

Dir. Kinji Fukasaku    –  113 minutes

 

Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Kou Shibasaki

 

 

Set in a future Japan, the government has implemented the ‘Battle Royale’ initiative to curb the growing problem of youth rebellion. Class 3-B are the latest group to be a part of the act, a brutal game of survival on an island for three days where the 42 students will fight to the death and only one will survive.

 

 

We live in a worrying state of affairs where films and novels centred around the notion of young children killing each other in a dystopian future appear to be all the rage and you can’t move for children actively stating just how well they think they would cope if placed in the situation where they might have to kill their friends. All this makes it hard for this generation to fully understand the magnitude of the impact that heralded the arrival of the cinematic adaptation of  Koushun Takami’s controversy-baiting novel of the same name. Lambasted by the Japanese government, not officially released in the USA for eleven years and banned outright in Germany, ‘Battle Royale’s graphic violence and disturbing ‘What if…’ ethos is a far cry from Katniss and her block-busting adaptation buddies.

 

 

To those who are yet to see this masterpiece of cult cinema (seriously have you been in a cave?), you may question that, given the current trend of kiddie-killing films, does ‘Battle Royale’ still have the power to shock 13 years on? Yes, absolutely and it is a perfect example of a film that stays with you permanently.

 

 

After believing that they are going on a school trip, Class 3-B wake up in an army barracks and are confronted by their old teacher, Kitano (Takeshi Kitano). No sooner are the children informed of why they are at the barracks than two are instantly killed, all bets are off as to the dark places this film will go to and the first black comic title card detailing the names of those killed is flashed up, alongside how many number students are ‘Left To Go’.

The film’s main focus is on a boy called Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda) who end up teaming together with an older ‘exchange student’, Shogo (Taro Yamamoto) in an attempt to make it to the end. Some may argue that the two have ‘final couple’ status that may as well be tattooed on their foreheads, but the film cleverly presents us with multiple perspectives on the ‘game’ from different students, making a first time viewing an exciting guessing game as to who will be the victor.

 

 

Battle2

Asian horror’s reputation of its love of as much gore as possible goes before it and those expecting a blood-fest will certainly not be disappointed, nor have to wait long to get it. The start of the ‘game’ itself is an all out assault on the viewer’s senses and nerves, alliances are forged and destroyed, bodies pile up faster than you could count and most were helped along the way by the film’s two ‘anti-heroes’ and fan favourites Mitsuko (Kou Shibasaki) and Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando).

 

 

Where the film earns its reputation in brutality is not only through the extremely direct and in full view violence but also in using a cast of predominantly 15 year olds, as in the novel. As this is a group of complete unknowns and they are the appropriate age, the film almost pulls of the trick in making you believe that these are genuinely real people in a horrifying situation you are watching, a high appraisal of the acting as well as supporting the notion that the film is satirising the reality TV trend before it had even properly started. If the actors had been too old or big name stars as the American remake would have been, the wonderful illusion would have failed and the ‘winners’ obvious to all to see without any semblance of tension.

 

 

The fact that the violence takes place on a seemingly idyllic island adds even further to the sense of total disorientation and fear that the film so expertly captures.The dining room in the lighthouse remains one of my all time most disturbing moments of any film I have ever seen, absolutely unflinching in its hauntingly horrible levels of violence.Aside from the violence, the most disturbing scene in ‘BR’ is the instructional video detailing the students on the hell they are about to go through delivered in a terrifyingly cheerful smile by Yuko Miyamura.

 

 

We as an audience are forced to gaze in shock as she gleefully talks about luck of the draw brutal weapons, danger zones and collars that will explode should someone try to remove them. The film uses a brilliant piece of satire of the often painful Japanese game shows to devastating effect, making it come across as though it’s all a fun exercise. This is coupled by the film’s opening scene of a television crew reporting on the winner of a previous game, where we see a young girl covered in blood and flashing a chill-inducing grin. The film establishes the notion of an already lived-in alternative earth which has the disquieting effect of making the audience feel as though they have been thrown in at the deep end with the children, just as confused and scared.

 

 

Battle3The main and often over-looked aspect that sets ‘BR’ apart from being just graphic underage violence is the layers of subtext to almost every key character’s story. Examples of this can be seen in unobtrusive flashback sequences, such as Noriko being bullied at school and finding her only friend in the teacher, Kitano which adds an intriguing spin on the relationship between the two characters. Kitano himself, is also seen to be talking to his seemingly estranged family on the phone and whilst he is the overseeing angel of death in this game, the fact that the film is able to elicit sympathy for his character is at once both surprising and slightly alarming.

 

 

Shuya is given the most tragic of back stories, we see him with his alcoholic father and then later when Shuya returns home to find his father had hung himself. It is frustrating that certain people could watch this film and see nothing but violence and lashings of the red red kroovy, when elements such as this, as well as the intermittently touched upon classroom dynamics affecting relationships in the group proves the film has brains as well as blood and a keen eye on proper character development. When the film slows down, without multiple deaths left right and centre, it is no less engaging as the complexity of the characters still keep you on the edge with no idea of what to expect next.

 

 

The area which has always divided opinion from both the film’s harshest critics and biggest fans alike is whether or not the film can be classed as actually being a very black comedy. Personally, I would argue that several scenes and lines of dialogue, whilst not taking away from the raw horror of the events, make it impossible not to classify the film as being very funny on occasions. The final confrontation with Kitano is both hilariously over the top but also filled with an overwhelming sense of melancholy which can almost be said to be representative of the film as a whole, we laugh at it but are then quickly reminded of the hell we see portrayed before us.

 

 

battle4Very few films could ever claim to cover the bases of being philosophically fascinating, carrying serious emotional weight, having moments of hilarious black comedy and some of the most hard-hitting extreme violence of man’s propensity for brutality to man for self-preservation. ‘Battle Royale’ has all these qualities turned up to 11 and despite all these current pretenders to the throne, it will outlast them all.

 

 

Verdict: The greatest piece of World Cinema you will ever see, a complete white-knuckle roller-coaster.  10/10