Genre: Ultraviolence/Action/Survival Drama
Year Released: 2000
Distributor: Anchor Bay
Running Time: 113 minutes (original cut), 121 minutes (extended version)
Rating/Recommended Audience: 17+
Related Films: Battle Royale II: Requiem
For Fans Of: The Running Man, The Belko Experiment, The Condemned, Kill Bill series, Gantz, The Hunger Games, Ichi the Killer, A Clockwork Orange
This review reflects the extended edition. Both Japanese and English dubs were watched during this review.
-This movie is based on the 1999 book of the same name by Koshun Takami. It’s also the only novel he wrote in his life so far. Also, Takami’s job before Battle Royale was working at a newspaper company.
-Quentin Tarantino considers Battle Royale to be the best movie he’s seen in his over 2 decades of filmmaking. Speaking of Tarantino, the character Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill is played by Chiaki Kuriyama who played Takako Chigusa in this film.
-Battle Royale is the last film that director Kinji Fukasaku completed before dying of prostate cancer.
-Controversy Alert: Battle Royale has become a go-to reference for Hollywood ripping off movies from other countries because of the similarities The Hunger Games has with this book/movie franchise. This film didn’t even get American distribution until the same week The Hunger Games debuted in theaters. To make matters worse, Lionsgate (the studio who adapted THG) now owns Anchor Bay who brought this Japanese movie stateside. Let that sink in, BR fans.
Get ready, everybody. We’re dealing with one of the most violent movies to come out of Japan. This thing got a R-15 rating in it’s home country which is the highest rating a movie can get, and this certainly doesn’t pull any punches especially with the extended director’s cut.
Let’s talk about Battle Royale. This movie takes place in an alternate dystopian near-future Japan where unemployment and juvenile delinquency are at an all time high. The government freaks out and they instate the Millennium Educational Reform Act AKA the Battle Royal Act. This new law allows the government to randomly select teenagers to take part in this tournament of death in a remote island. They are assigned weapons, water, compasses, and food rations before having to kill each other until there’s only one survivor. They even have shock collars which can explode if the contestants try to take them off or if there are more than one survivors left during the end game. Even though a majority of the combatants are randomly selected throughout the country, people can also volunteer to join in Battle Royale.
I’ll save the obvious comparisons to that more famous book/movie series for later, but that’s the situation of Battle Royale. There are dozens of teens who get taken against their will to fight in Battle Royale, but the story mainly focuses on Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa. Shuya is a boy who’s had a very rough life to say the least. His mom walked out on the family and his dad committed suicide by hanging himself with a telephone wire while having a sign that says “Go Shuya! Go for it!” adorned over his corpse. He’s lived in a foster home since then. Noriko is Shuya’s friend who like Shuya, doesn’t want to compete in this government sanctioned bloodsport reality show and wants to escape. Shuya does have a protective instinct over her even though there is one time where she saves him. Both of them form an alliance with one of the transfer students named Shogo Kawada. He’s competed in a previous Battle Royale and (minor spoiler alert) has a scar to prove it as he’s trying to survive this brutal game as much as them, but he has more knowledge than most of the competitors in Battle Royale.
Then there are some of the nastier characters involved. The main man in charge of this annual game is Mr. Kitano, played by veteran actor Takeshi Kitano (note the exact last names). He’s one calm, yet ruthless villain who’s not afraid to put the students in danger. Kitano even throws a knife at a girl’s head as punishment for whispering during the instructional video without a second thought and plays the movie like nothing ever happened. He is one of the scariest teachers you’ll ever see in film. There’s Mitsuko Souma who’s this sadistic girl who manipulates the others in this movie. She scores a lot of kills in the group. Not to mention that smile she gives when she shines her face with her flashlight made me quiver in fear since it had the right amount of malice and brutality that Mitsuko is capable of. Last but not least is the even more sadistic transfer student Kazuo Kiriyama. He’s the only combatant who volunteered to take part in this BR session and kills more people than anyone else in the movie. Kiriyama is this mute machine gun toting maniac who’s expressions range from cold to gleeful whenever he’s slaughtering other students. There’s a creepier aspect to him which was his orange-reddish hair. Am I the only person who thinks he looks like a Japanese version of James Holmes, the Aurora Colorado killer despite this movie coming out 12 years before that event happened? That visual likeness makes this character so much harsher in hindsight.
The violence used in this movie is quite intense. There’s a ton of bloodshed as people get shot, stabbed, poisoned, and there are even some suicides involving some characters who want to escape the game. This makes most Quentin Tarantino movies look like Nick Jr shows by comparison. Normally, I’d be averse about this sort of thing, but at least it provides a sense of danger and most of the violence isn’t done to provide some id-crazy relief that one would watch in an action movie. Most of the brutality is shown as a bad thing as some people kill their classmates including their friends and the horror of realizing what they’ve done. It even adds to the Juvenalian satire involving this hellish Japan where youth delinquency skyrockets and there’s a depression going on while the government forces these young people to eviscerate each other in this death match.
I’ve held on long enough. I have to make comparisons to THAT one book/movie series.
Let’s face the facts. Battle Royale predates The Hunger Games. The movie alone beats the first book by eight years and the movie by twelve years. Both of those movies involve the following:
-Romance between two of the combatants
-Government sanctioned tournaments of death involving teenagers
-People can volunteer to compete
-Previous winners can compete again (Quarter Quell, anyone?)
-Randomly assigned weapons and tools
Suzanne Collins claims that she had never heard of the Battle Royale book, movies, or manga until after she first published The Hunger Games. This has become controversial with BR fans given the obvious similarities because that movie never got an American release until years later even though the book and manga had been out stateside before Collins‘ book series even started. Seriously, Battle Royale is frequently name-dropped with Kimba the White Lion and Paprika in terms of Japanese media properties that Hollywood stole from according to anyone knowledgeable about foreign cinema. Now, I’m going to be objective to Suzanne Collins despite the painfully obvious similarities between the two plots. The Hunger Games series focuses on a more futuristic post-apocalyptic environment, a famine backdrop, the class warfare is more prevalent, the romance levels are more prevalent, it’s WAY less violent than it’s Japanese counterpart, and the plot isn’t just about this government sanctioned bloodfest. It does focus on the aftermath such as an insurrectionist movement against President Snow in the later books and movies. Battle Royale doesn’t deal with most of those things.
Now back to the review.
While Battle Royale was an enjoyable movie with some good action and satire, it has some glaring flaws. There’s way too huge of a cast. Sure, a bunch of them get killed off throughout the movie, but I wanted to to know more about some of them like that nerdy guy who randomly spouts equations while shooting at Shuya. Some of the flashbacks go way too fast for some of the characters. There are also plot holes about how the BR act became a thing or how they came up with this brutal combat zone idea instead of something more effective. There’s even the mystery surrounding Kiriyama. Since he’s mute, he doesn’t talk about his past or why he would want to volunteer as tribute…I mean want to be a participant in this gruesome sport (I swear I won’t make anymore Hunger Games jokes after that one). Although I do have an alternative theory to that villain. Since no one knows about his past or motivations, one could say that this is the darkest take on the “mysterious transfer student” trope as seen in Japanese movies and anime. Maybe I’m just giving the filmmakers too much credit for that theory.
Did I mention how violent and bloody this movie is? This is definitely not for the faint of heart and even some action buffs may get squeamish with all the brutality that goes on for over two hours. At least there is a legitimate plot and character development to counterbalance it, but don’t expect some deep and mature understanding of humanity unless you want to go all nihilistic.
Battle Royale was certainly a thrilling, yet macabre movie. The filming works quite well here and the violence isn’t glamorized despite having a lot of it happen. Controversy or not, it should be seen. While it gets quite gory, it does have substance to the viewer. It’s a cruel satire of education, the economy, and adolescent awkwardness, but I thought it was effective. I’m not going to say it’s a life changing movie, but any open minded person should give Battle Royale a chance.
Adjustable Point System
Add 1 point if you like violent movies
Subtract 4 points if you can’t handle tons of bloodshed in action films
-Good character development
-The action scenes are intense and are quite gritty
-Plot holes and lack of backstory for some characters
-The violence can be too much even for die-hard action fans
-The Kitano/Noriko subplot is too creepy despite the events in the ending
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: People who’ve heard of Battle Royale because of The Hunger Games might think that it would be similar in terms of objectionable content like a PG-13 movie, right? ABSOLUTELY WRONG! Battle Royale is only for older audiences. To say the violence is intense is an understatement. People get blown up, shot down, sliced, beheaded, jump off cliffs, explode, and some of the boys get stabbed in the groin by two female characters. There’s some strong language, but that’s just the least of your worries. There’s even a backstory where one of the characters has a mother who’s strongly implied to be a prostitute while a pedophile tries (yet thankfully fails) to molest a younger version of one of the characters. Battle Royale pulls no punches with it’s extreme content which would give it a really hard R if this got a theatrical release in America.
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