Set in the near future Battle Royale is director Kinji Fukasaku's 60th movie. Well known for his visceral portrayal of violence on screen he has taken his inspiration from the novel of the same name by Koshun Takami. In the bleak future imagined by the movie we see a Japanese society in which law and order is on the verge of breakdown. The blame for this falls firmly at the feet of the modern teenager, and in particular grade 9 (15 year olds). The government sees the increase in petty crimes, property destruction and a lack of respect for authority figures and adults in general as the root cause of society's ills. Their solution is to pass the BR Bill. In order to discourage disruptive behaviour and to teach teenagers a lesson the BR Bill dictates that each year a class of 15 year olds is taken to a remote island off the Japanese coast. They are supplied with basic survival gear and a weapon selected at random. The have a necklace placed around their necks, which will explode if activated, and they must fight and kill their classmates until only one is left standing. If this is not done in three days, all the necklaces will explode and everyone will die.
Battle Royale is a thrilling modern take on William Golding's Lord of the Flies a book I remember revelling in at school. Whilst lacking the structure and form of Golding's classic novel it lacks none of the power to shock. Fukasaku has cast aside movie-making subtleties for a straight telling of love, friendship and morality wrapped up in a gloriously gratuitous smorgasbord of violence. There is none of the balletic beauty often associated with Japanese cinema. This is down and dirty, meat and two veg violence, anime like in its characterizations and depiction of death. Yet despite the violence it has an honest voice and the satirisation of an amoral, reality TV obsessed youth is pretty close to the bone. Could you kill your best friend in order to survive? Or would you commit suicide rather than be forced to murder your loved ones? We see these children struggle with these questions and while you may begin watching this movie for the thrilling violence, I guarantee you will end it empathising with the horror faced by the teenagers on the island. And how many movies can do that these days except maybe those by QT - who by the way is on this DVD fully endorsing Battle Royale as do I.
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