Way before ‘The Hunger Games’ gained its massive fandom and broke box office records, there was another movie about teenagers killing each other that took the world by storm. Actually, if you want to get technical, there were many stories about teenagers killing each other. It’s not exactly a new idea. But the one that I’m talking about comes courtesy of Japan, and it goes by the name of ‘Battle Royale’.
‘Battle Royale’ is a 2000 Japanese film by Kinji Fukasaku based on the novel of the same name by Koushun Takami. It tells the story of Shuya Nanahara’s high school class that is forced to participate in a competition where the students must battle to the death in order to win. If there is no winner after three days, then all the remaining students will be killed by the collars around their necks. The game is the result of a bill that was passed after 800,000 students walked out of classes for no reason. Shuya’s class was picked because their former teacher, Kitano, was out for revenge on the group that forced him to resign from teaching. In addition to having to dodge death zones and each other, the students also have to look out for two deadly “exchange students” who have survived the games in the past. Amidst all the killings, Shuya tries to figure out a way to protect Noriko Nakagawa, the girl he loves, from being killed, while also trying to figure out a way to keep them both alive.
First things first, his film is incredibly violent. Buckets and buckets of blood are spilt in creatively disturbing ways. For this reason, ‘Battle Royale’ wasn’t even officially released in the US until eleven years after it premiered in Japan. When it premiered in Japan, government officials labeled it as crude and tasteless. Many politicians blamed the film for youth crime and violence. However, as violent as the film was, it’s hard to argue that the film wasn’t good. So good, in fact, that acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino has gone on record saying that “[i]f there’s any movie that’s been made since I’ve been making movies that I wish I had made, it’s that one.” His love for the film is very evident in his own ‘Kill Bill’ films, in which he even cast a ‘Battle Royale’ alum, Chiaki Kuriyama, as Gogo.
Even though the characters were generally basic, they all had interesting backstories. The combination of the multifaceted characters with how they each handled the pressure of having to kill their classmates made for interesting cinema. Besides the great character work, there were also some great comedic moments, despite all of the killing going on. In fact, some of the comedy came from the kills. Yes, I know that it’s a bit messed up for me to say that, but that’s really how it is. You get a bit of funny before getting the shock of gruesome death. Most will find moments in ‘Battle Royale’ uneasy, but in the end, you get a very unforgettable film. That’s why it’s one of my all time favorites.
All this week, I’ve read about all the comparisons between ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Battle Royale’, and there’s a whole lot of animosity coming from both camps. Yes, both involve a pair of star-crossed lovers unwillingly participating in a twisted game of killing, but there are some differences. For one, the kids in the audience watching ‘The Hunger Games’ should wait till they’re older to watch ‘Battle Royale’. For two, the different characters make each story unique. Basically, there’s no use in hating one if you’re a fan of the other. It’s one thing if one was a horrible movie, but they’re both good, so that argument is void. There are no original ideas anymore, people. Without the Flintstones, there’d be no Jetsons. Without ‘The Real World’, there’d be no ‘Jersey Shore’. Without ‘Lord of the Flies’, there would be no ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Battle Royale’. So no need to spread the hate, kids.
On a five star scale, I rate ‘Battle Royale’ with five stars. I highly recommend picking up a copy, especially because it’s easier now than ever to get your hands on it since it’s recently been released in the US as a four-disc special edition box set that includes the original theatrical cut, the director’s cut, the sequel, ‘Battle Royale II: Requiem’, and a disc of special features. You kids are lucky. I had to get my copy in a random Chinatown store.