Battle Royale (2000)

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*. You know a film is tapping into something archetypal when it calls up so many other works of the imagination. Here we have The Running Man meets Survivor meets Lord of the Flies meets The Most Dangerous Game meets And Then There Were None. And the list could go on.
*. Also, when you tap into archetypes you’re getting into the collective unconscious, which tends to lend the proceedings a dream-like air. After several viewings this is the aspect of Battle Royale that I find myself coming back to the most.
*. Of course it’s a fantasy. Even given the dystopic premise, however, it’s infected with fantastic improbabilities. Take two examples, two clichés well-known to fans of action films that are taken to extreme levels here.
*. The first of these is the gun with unlimited ammunition. Bad enough that the mute psycho Kiriyama has a machine gun, but except on one occasion it never runs out of ammo. Even assuming his duffel bag is packed with extra rounds (which would make it impossible to carry), he’d still burn through it all in a couple of minutes at the rate he’s spraying lead around. In all, the business of ammo is not well handled. Basically, as long as the story requires the characters to have guns that still fire, they will. If not, they’re out. But Kiriyama becomes a figure out of a nightmare with his bottomless clip.
*. The second cliché has to do with the number of bullets people can take and keep going. The ending where Kitano gets up and walks around after being torn apart by machine gun bullets at point blank range had me wondering if the whole thing was now to be seen as a joke. A joke or a dream.

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*. The sense that it’s all a dream is furthered by the way the film begins and ends. In the beginning the kids are taken to the island after being put to sleep on the bus. When they wake up it’s in the classroom and they’re already collared and in the game. Then at the end (of the “director’s cut”) there are three dream-like, or dream, “requiems.” One of these seems to be a flashback, another a sort of dream vision, and I have no idea how to take the third, the conversation between Kitano and Noriko. Is this a memory of an earlier conversation that really took place? One of their fantasies? Is there some suggestion of a creepy relationship between them?
*. If it is all a dream or nightmare or fantasy, whose is it? Noriko’s? Shuya’s? Kitano’s? After all, the whole show is his way of getting back at the bratty kids of class 3-B. Just how on earth did an asshole high school teacher get put in charge of this project anyway? Doesn’t that seem fantastic? Then notice all the time he spends stretched out on his couch in his pyjama-like sweats . . . dreaming his revenge.
*. And why are they called “requiems”? Is something being lost in translation? The sequel to this film was called Battle Royale II: Requiem and I didn’t understand its use there either.
*. So you can’t worry about the story not making any sense. Dreams don’t. The three rebel/hacker kids, for example, hunker down in one building throughout the film, apparently immune to the orders to move about the island. And how could it be that none of the kids have heard of the Battle Royale program before they’re kidnapped? Apparently it’s a hit show on TV. In the book the film is based on they do know about it, but that part is left out here. Which is a benefit to the audience (we have the game explained to us just as it’s being explained to them), but is something that makes no sense at all within the world of the film.
*. I wonder who did the first series of jump cuts closing in on a face for a shock effect. The first appearance of the Monster in Frankenstein? Probably. Another standout example is the sequence of three shots taking us into the face of the woman with her eyes pecked out in The Birds. I bring this up only because we get it again here, with three very fast cuts jumping in to the bloody face of the dead teacher when Kitano pulls the sheet back from his corpse. You can’t go wrong with the classics, and those three fast cuts into close-up are pure horror gold.
*. There’s an odd mix of sentimentality with the breaking of taboos. I found all the business about the kids having different crushes to be eye-rolling stuff, but then you get these outbreaks of sickening weirdness. The part where Hirono confronts Mitsuko about who is having her period is off-putting enough, but when she says she “checked” Megumi’s corpse to see if she was menstruating my jaw dropped. Mitsuko’s flashback to her mother’s pedophile boyfriend is bad, but the fact that he has some kind of sexual assault doll with him is vile.

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*. Overall, the movie is clearly on the side of the kids. Parents are seen as either pathetically helpless or cruel degenerates (I include Kitano in the latter category). Maybe it’s because I’m a bit older, but I find this romanticizes things a bit much.
*. The emphasis on the kids and their problems, however, has been a big theme in what I would describe as twenty-first century existentialist horror. Instead of just being the meat on the hoof fresh for slaughter that we had in older slasher films, what we get here and in movies like the Saw and Final Destination franchises is young people stuck in absurd but terminal situations forced to find a way to give meaning to their lives through some kind of authentic act or commitment (either to one another or to an ideal).
*. It’s a movie that’s definitely in tune with today’s social Darwinist zeitgeist, where you can’t trust anyone and your best bet to survive (or succeed) is to be a psychopath. The island is the school of life.
*. This point is driven home at the end when we are told that the game on the island is no different from life in the big city. Noriko and Shuya are going to have to keep running. Tokyo is just another jungle. The Battle Royale is an allegory or microcosm. Life is the game.
*. There was much talk of an American remake, but this was considered to be redundant after the success of The Hunger Games. There was a sequel, but Kinji Fukasaku died and I doubt even he could have salvaged what was a doomed project. An archetypal movie like this can’t really have a sequel, it can only be repeated. In nightmares we’re always running in sand.

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