Plot – In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary “Battle Royale” act.
Director – Kinji Fukasaku
Released – 2000
Battle Royale remains one of the most controversial and challenging movies ever to come out of the Japanese film system and not just because of the graphic violence and subject matter, but also how these elements are used to produce a powerful and thought-provoking movie that tackles lengths governments will go to, to mould the youth in their image and stamp out resistance.
The film is very gory and violent, sure, but it’s also extremely witty, satirical and nuanced in its delivery and that’s why I’ve loved it ever since I came across it as young teen scanning the shelves at the local video rental store (giving away my ages a little there). And love it even more now, though for completely different reasons.
Back then the violence and compelling plot were just what teenage me found entertaining, now, however, it’s the way that director Fukasaku managed to take a simple plot about a group of school children forced to fight to the death on an island by their government, into a smart and layered political commentary filled with complex characters and a plot that leaves you guessing right up till the end, what will happen and who will survive.
It’s not just the director that makes Battle Royale such a delight, but also the talented young cast, who all committed to their roles as hero’s, villains, geeks, jocks or star crossed lovers in a way that makes you connect with and truly care for at least one if not all of them and the situation these characters find themselves.
Now, it’s understandable why so many younger viewers might wish to compare Battle Royale with 2012’s Hunger Games, after all they both involve a government forcing teens to fight to the death, but that’s really the only shared element. Battle Royale to me, is infinitely the better and more realistic of the two movies, which might be a frightening prospect to some, Hunger Games despite all it’s promise, soon devolves into just another YA sci-fi romance complete with love triangles and teen drama, with the fighting taking a back step, whereas with Battle Royale, the fight takes precedence, with the teens almost entirely focused on their survival and sometimes those they love,
In the end, Battle Royale is a powerful and thought provoking exploration into the lengths totalitarian states will go through, to keep an iron grip on their power, shown through the eyes of the corrupted youth. Something you can see shades of all over the world to different degrees. This isn’t just a movie, but also should serve as a warning that justifying murder for the greater good, is a slippery slope.