Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Takeshi Kitano, Chiaki Kuriyama
“There’s a way out of this game. Kill yourselves together, here, now. If you can’t do that, then don’t trust anyone. Just run.” (Kawada, Battle Royale)
Teenagers are pricks. That’s what Japan thinks in Battle Royale, and that’s why the film starts with the passing of the Millennium Educational Reform Act. A tricky piece of legislature, it basically sees one class of fifteen year-old pupils (chosen by random lottery) being taken to a remote island each year and made to kill each other. And to think we Brits rioted over tuition fees.
This year it’s the turn of Nanahara Shuya’s class, so as he and the rest of his unwitting fellow students set off on what they think is a class trip they don’t realise the bus is actually heading to Clusterfuck Island (which is unfortunately my name for it, not the film’s). Naturally, they’re a bit shocked to find out they’re all marked for death, and are equally surprised when their old school teacher, Kitano (of Takeshi’s Castle and a million other Japanese films fame) turns up to tell them the rules.
The natural reaction in a situation like this would be to think of ways to get out of having to kill your mates, so Kitano goes on to explain (via an incredibly darkly comic instructional video) that they can’t pull a fast one because of the steel collars around their necks. These collars track the students and monitor their pulse rates (so the organisers can tell if they’re dead). More importantly though, they’re also armed with powerful explosives which can be triggered at any time causing the wearer’s neck to explode, killing them.
Considering Battle Royale has the difficult task of introducing a huge cast of 42 characters and trying to make them all interesting, it actually does a very good job of this. While some pupils only get a few seconds of screen time or are already found dead, the vast majority (even the bit-part characters) still feel like individual characters with their own personalities, which keeps things interesting as each pupil tries to play the game their own way.
Battle Royale is a film you really should see. It makes you consider an interesting question (could you kill all your friends if it was the only way to stay alive?) and is handled with a surprising degree of tact given the subject matter. If you’ve never seen it before, watch the trailer below and try to tell me it doesn’t look like a powerful movie.