The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #7:
The Ecstasy of BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
As 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.
Many 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.
Battle 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.
Another 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: