I was going to review Ong Bak for my inaugural post, but have decided instead to review Battle Royale. Why? Because it’s fucking awesome, that’s why!
To be more specific, allow me to elaborate…
For starters, I feel sorry for people who refuse to watch subtitled movies. I can perfectly understand if someone has dyslexia or some other condition that makes reading difficult, but if you can read on an eighth grade level, subtitles shouldn’t be a problem. It’s sad that I know so many people who say, “I don’t like having to read movies.” I have to wonder if people back in the late 1920s would say, “I don’t like having to listen to movies” when talkies were introduced.
Here’s the deal: if you refuse to watch foreign movies because they’re subtitled, you are essentially cutting yourself off from the majority of the world’s movies. More importantly, you’re cutting yourself off from some really good movies; movies that won’t ever be getting the Hollywood treatment. Battle Royale is a perfect example of this, and it’s the main reason I chose it as my first review.
In Japan of the near future, society is in disarray and juvenile delinquency is at an all-time high. One way in which the government deals with the problem is by — once a year — shipping a random 9th grade class to a deserted island and giving them 72 hours to fight to the death. To keep things competitive, there are certain rules. First, all participants have collars around their necks that have an explosive charge. If there’s more than one student alive at the end of the 72 hours, all the collars go boom. Second, every four hours, certain areas of the island are declared off limits; if you’re in one of the forbidden zones, your collar goes boom. This prevents students from just holing up somewhere and hiding. And finally, there are a wide variety of weapons randomly assigned to the kids. One boy gets a crossbow. A girl gets a stun gun. One kid gets a pot lid. Yes, a pot lid.
With 40 students given the task of killing one another, don’t expect much in the way of character development. Plus, it’s hard to tell whether anyone in the movie is a bad actor, seeing that most of them spend a minute or two on screen before getting whacked by one of their classmates. The standout, by far, is Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, who plays the supervisor of Battle Royale and — incidentally – happened to be this class’s 7th grade teacher, hinting that the whole “random lottery” selection process might be a little corrupt. Kitano is known and loved by many Americans as Vic Romano, a.k.a “that guy on MXC, that crazy Japanese game show on Spike TV”. Kitano also happens to be a respected actor and filmmaker in Japan; if you’re only familiar with him from MXC, you’re in for a shock: he’s a badass in this movie!
Another recognizable face in the movie is Chiaki Kuriyama. Who, you ask? She was Gogo, the ass-kicking Japanese schoolgirl in Kill Bill, Vol. 1. She’s not quite as ruthless as she was in Kill Bill, but she does manage to protect her virtue with some good, old-fashioned violence. If you’re looking for High School femme fatales, though, don’t worry: at least one of the girls in Battle Royale takes to killing like a fish to water.
On the whole, any flaws in the casting can be overlooked by their authenticity. Remember, these are supposed to be 9th graders. If this was an American production, the youngest person in the cast would probably be 28 years old. The kids look like 9th graders, and more importantly, act like 9th graders. Some of the boys are more concerned about losing their virginity than they are with losing their lives. Some girls in the class decide to set up house in an abandoned lighhouse, and in one of the movie’s highlights, typical high school rivalries get taken to an extreme. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
No complaints here. In the first twenty minutes, we get to see a knife to a forehead, and a demonstration of those explosive collars. Not only that, we get to see one of the film’s best moments, a crazy instructional video where an overly enthusiastic Japanese chick explains the rules of the game. So yeah, Battle Royale doesn’t waste any time.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding this movie, and it’s rightfully deserved. I went into it with my expectations low, figuring that it just couldn’t be as cool as it sounded. I could’ve set the bar much higher and I still would have been really impressed. Yes, it’s that good. If anything, Battle Royale serves as a perfect introduction to the world of foreign movies. Not only is it a great movie, it’s the kind of great movie that doesn’t get made in Hollywood.
As you can probably tell, I really dig this flick. If you like action movies, or if you like movies that are twisted, then Battle Royale delivers. I could list hundreds of movies that sound great in concept, but fail miserably in the execution department (by execution, I mean the making of, not in relation to body count…) If you’re looking for a movie about a man’s heartwarming journey of self-discovery, look elsewhere. That’s not to say Battle Royale doesn’t have a message. Throughout history, governments have scapegoated the weakest, most disenfranchised elements of society as a means to distract from the real issues. Battle Royale takes that premise to its (il)logical extreme.
Lest I sound like a fanboy in my praise, I will say that the movie is not without its faults. I can’t really say that I liked the ending, because the Director’s Cut of the film has about a dozen endings tacked on in the form of flashbacks, exposition, and who knows what else. There are a couple of points in the final ten minutes where they could have just faded to black and everyone would be all, “fuck yeah, that was rad!”, but the director thought we needed to see a basketball bouncing in slo-mo and reverse. That’s fucking deep, man.
Oh, and did I mention that Battle Royale is based on a wildly popular Japanese novel that I haven’t read?