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Battle Royale (2000)

I've seen Battle Royale three times now. Once back in 2002 when the film was first released on DVD in this country. I was just getting into Asian cinema at the time, graduating from anime onto the films of John Woo and Takeshi Miike, and so was devouring everything asian I could find. I already knew a ton about Battle Royale when I finally was able to rent it on DVD, I knew that it was viewed as a new video nasty, a film of shocking, unremitting, violence and so I went in expecting some transgressive horror and because I was a 16 year old fuckhead found myself a little underwhelmed by the violence, but enraptured by the overall style of the thing. The humour, the tone, the music, the great, almost deadpan, performance by Takeshi Kitano all combined to create a film I was mesmorised by. It's a film with a deserved cult following, but I kind of loved the technical side of thing but never properly connected with it.

The second time was a HK import of the Director's Cut, which was a mistake and kind of soured me on the film in general.

The third time was tonight, on Blu-Ray (a lavishly put together thing by Arrow Productions, it's actually kind of insane how much care and thought went into their Limited Edition) and the film worked for me in a completely different way. The spectacle and technical skill of the film was still there, and looked stunning on Blu, but I got the horror of the film this time, because I'm not a sociopathic 16 year old fuckhead. Whilst the film is blackly, blacker than a moonless night, comic there's a level of pathos and horror in the brutality that I never really picked up on before.

Battle Royale kind of works as a far more effective horror movie than I ever imagined, just little things like the reveal of the 'nice' teacher and the various shots of kid corpses is done with the kind of twisted aplomb that really gets under the skin. There's a passivity at times in the film, a detached way of filming which kind of grounds the more fantastical elements of the film and makes the kids deaths really horrifying. I've often wanted to read the original novel, because there a ton of allusions to a fictional alternative history in this film that are more fleshed out in the book and I'm fascinated by that sort of thing.

One of the things I find really interesting about the film is how Fukasaku has obvious sympathy for the kids, but also isn't afraid to use them as a commentary on society at large. It's easy to see the island, and it's murderous inhabitants, as a microcosm of society in general. As such whilst the kids are in a terrible situation they're kind of viewed impassively and judged by their actions, rather than their circumstances. It's why I think it's interesting that the two survivors are the two kids who refused to take part in the game. That impassiveness is also there in the way the action sequences are staged with the music swelling, and the score is the one thing I adored this time, and the kids actually being shown to be fairly competent through their choreography kind of ties into them being defined by action rather than intent.

I know we've had some discussion of this before, but the previous thread is heavily edited so I thought it would be nice to start up a new conversation.

Random piece of minutae: Because Chiaki Kuriyama carved herself out a career, post Battle Royale, as a general psycho in movies I kind of mixed up her character and the character of Mitsuko in my memory. As such I was kind of surprised when Kuriyama DIDN'T turn out to the sickle wielding maniac and instead was kind of a bitplayer.


I was OBSESSED with this movie for a couple of years.  I got to see it at the Seattle Cinerama during the Seattle International Film Festival in 2001 (I think?).  I went in only knowing the basic premise.  I had no idea the film would kinda rock my world.

The score by Masamichi Amano made an impact on me immediately.  To be fair, it kinda cheats by opening with the most obviously operatic piece by Mozart, but the rest of the original score does a great job maintaining those heightened levels for the duration of the film.  It's a strange mix of Kubrickian use of existing classical music mixed with an almost Hisaishi-ish sentimentality that often characterizes traditionally-scored Japanese soundtracks.  Spike, if you dig Amano's work at all, you should check out his work from Giant Robo and Super Atragon (both animes).

From all the material I read back in my obsessed-days, I came to the conclusion that this was Fukasaku's way of telling young people: DON'T TRUST ADULTS.  It's all laid bare at the end of the film.

"Run for all you're worth!  RUN!!!"

It's seen in the way Kawada keeps changing up what his father did for a living (chef, doctor, mechanic, etc).  He makes a joke of it, but I think he's a guy who came to be his own man.  Most likely, Kawada's father was no different than Nanahara's: a white-collar sadsack.  All the stuff Mimura talks about in regards to his rebel uncle (played by Sonny Chiba in the boring sequel) goes along with this.

Microcosm, indeed.  There are those who try to fight the system... those who try to advance within the system... those who refuse to take part in it... those who try to join together and survive... and those who just want to watch the world burn (to get all Alfred on you!).

Fukasaku lived through the horrors of World War II and never trusted the 'adult' world again.  He definitely sympathizes with the youth.  If you watch the documentary on the making of the film, you see that the guy still had a spry, playful spirit into his 70s.  It's awesome to watch him work, interacting with the young cast, and smiling gleefully as he destroys them onscreen.

The film was my first exposure to Battle Royale, so it's always been the take that I've preferred.  I've read the manga (pretty twisted and pornographic) and the translated novel.  Both make the movie feel relatively tame in terms of objectionable content.  But Fukasaku's energetic filmmaking (along with Takeshi Kitano) wins in the end.  Obviously, the manga and the novel flesh out the world a lot more.  But I didn't really find it all that interesting.  I don't even recall it really.  I've come to love the film's fable-like vagueness when it comes to the alternate history.


Got the Tartan NTSC dvd that was labeled Region 2 with a big 18 on it back in 2005 as a blind buy, based on what I'd heard about it, and it was what I expected, and more. Much more.

Kiriyama is one of the best villains of the past 20 years, and I want to believe the actor was influenced by the late Yusaku Matsuda (well known to us US folks as Sato from Black Rain), since he brings a lot of the same intensity and craziness to his role as Kiriyama, as Matsuda did to Sato.

I too own the Arrow Blu-ray limited edition, and it looks stunning.

Read Anchor Bay has the rights to release it to disc over here in the states, but I'm very comfortable with both of my imports.

All the classical music works wonders. Best bit is Bach's "Air" being played when Kiriyama is shooting Mitsuko. That and the low camera angle.

Still haven't seen the sequel, and from what I understand, that's a good thing.


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