Battle Royale

There are some films where you hear about the concept and think “Yes, this will be a truly amazing film.” Battle Royale is such a film, with the premise being a class of 42 schoolkids are kidnapped, dropped onto an island and given weaponry and basic provisions. They are told that they have three days to kill all of their fellow classmates until only one survives, and if they fail, they’ll all be killed. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well that’s what I thought the first time I watched it too, about 5 years ago, and since then I’d kind of forgotten a lot of it, and thought to myself that surely that film but have been amazing, because how can you go wrong with a concept like that? There’s endless possibility for inventive deaths and character drama, what with these kids now having to kill their best friends or even their boyfriends and girlfriends, but unfortunately there were perhaps some reasons as to why I’d forgotten it.

For you see, Battle Royale is nowhere near as much fun as it should be. No, wait, that’s an unfair statement. The premise is excellent, far better than most other films, and it is handled well, but it fails to deliver on the promise of a gruesome kill-fest that I’d not necessarily been hoping for, but had at least thought I’d be delivered. So basically my problem is that though I didn’t want an incredibly gory film, I thought I was going to get one, but didn’t. I think the problem here may well lie within me, and not the film. Oh, and don’t expect many comparisons to The Hunger Games – a film with a similar yet far from identical conceit – as I’ve neither seen the film nor read the book.
The film’s scope is very ambitious, especially when you consider there are essentially 44 ‘main’ characters – the 42 school children (including two ‘exchange students’ – we’ll get to them later), their teacher and the man in charge of running the program. Obviously, quite a few of these people don’t make it very far into the film, and even fewer are left at the end, but even so I felt there was possibly too much going on than could be comfortably contained within a 2-hour film. I understand that the book goes into far more detail – as books tend to do – so I’ve added it to my Amazon wishlist, and if someone were to get it for me for Christmas, that would be fine. I felt that an adaptation may have been better suited to a television series, or by cutting down the cast considerably – as I understand it, The Hunger Games only has 24 participants – as that would have allowed far greater depth for most of the characters. As it stands, only a handful are given much in the way of any history, and only perhaps three or four could have something generously described as a character.The film is peppered with flashbacks to the kids’ lives before being selected for the battle, but rarely did this add very much, especially when said flashback consists almost entirely of a slow motion basketball game, presumably the only time when all of the characters were ever in the same room, considering the amount of truancy apparently on display. The only person who benefits from a little history is Mitsuko (Ko Shibasaki), a ruthless, determined killer whose hatred for people – and a certain area of men in particular – pays off in a particularly brutal and wince-inducing scene late on.Too many subplots with great potential fizzled out without really going anywhere, in particular those regarding the tech-nerds attempting to bring the system down, the inclusion of never-used death zones and the motivation behind one of the ‘exchange students’, the deranged, suit-wearing Kazuo (Masanobu Ando). Kazuo appears to be something of an interesting character – I don’t think he utters a word throughout the film – yet no reasons are provided for even why he volunteered to take part. I can understand this though, as he is one of the three predominant ‘bad guys’ (along with Mitsuko and Kitano (Takeshi Kitano), the former teacher running the game), and sometimes not providing an antagonist’s back story can make them a more powerful presence in a film. For example, Hannibal Lecter was far more imposing when his past was only hinted at in The Silence of the Lambs etc, but less so after everything was more or less explained in Hannibal Rising.

The ending felt in parts rushed and glossed over – some areas aren’t really explained – and drawn out in others. There’s also a moment of farce and ridiculousness when a character just gets up and walks around after being shot which is never even partially explained, and as to the reasoning behind the inclusion of several flashback sequences after the film has ended, most of which had already been seen anyway, is beyond me. The two main leads, Shuya and Noriko (Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda) felt bland and underdeveloped, especially in the case of Noriko, who doesn’t really get to do anything in the film other than be protected by those around her.

There were some great moments, especially the lighthouse scene, showing the real consequences of friends turning on one another in an environment of complete guilt and paranoia, and the initial briefing scene, in which the over enthusiastic instructional video offers some brilliant comedy, but overall this felt far too rushed, which is a real shame, as this could have been truly amazing.

Choose life 6/10

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4 thoughts on “Battle Royale

  1. I can understand some of your criticisms there but for me I've always been able to brush over some of the weaker points. When I first saw the film, it blew my mind. I've seen it a few times since then and it remains one of my favourite films. You're right that the execution (excuse the pun) isn't perfect but the premise is brilliant and personally I loved the ridiculous and unexplained ending.

  2. I think the main source of my negativity was that I remember it being so much better, but in fact I think I really remember expecting it to be so much better. Either way, disappointment.

  3. I've seen this film multiple times and liked it just as much as the first time I saw it. Yes, it has flaws, but I'm not expecting things like depth of characterization from a film like this.And don't get your hopes up for The Hunger Games. Even in the book only two of the 24 are given anything resembling three dimensional characterization, with one other given a semi-key role.

  4. My hopes are by no means high for THG, as in I may never watch any of them (Hopefully I'll never do an Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Lawrence of Stanley Tucci marathon).

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