Departing from two decades’ worth of domestic and personal dramas and returning to his roots as Japan’s maestro of mayhem, Kinji Fukasaku has delivered a brutal punch to the collective solar plexus with one of his most outrageous and timely films, Battle Royale. The film is based on first-time novelist Koshun Takami’s phenomenally successful dystopian fiction about a sinister game that forces kids in junior high school to kill or be killed over the course of three days on a deserted island. Fukasaki has reframed the story as a horrific battle imposed by adults on children, a kind of high-tech, fascistic variation on William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies.
It seems that Japan’s economy in the early 2000s has taken a major dive, with double-digit unemployment and kids rampantly boycotting school and attacking adults. The school system, in concert with the military, has devised a fearsome law enforcement system in which a school class is selected by lottery and sent to an island where it will play Battle Royale. Class B in Zentsuji Middle School, thinking it’s going on holiday, is gassed on its bus and sent to the islandowhere 44 students are confronted with angry teacher Kitano (‘Beat’ Takeshi), who teaches them the game’s rules in one of the most startling scenes of mayhem since the movies of the wild and bloody ’70s.
The kids, terrified out of their minds by Kitano and the reality that only one of them will be left alive, are given backpacks with survival goods and a weapon and let loose on the island. It’s quickly clear that the film’s body count will mount to outrageous numbers.
Japan, 2000.English subtitles. Colour.Dolby digital stereo.114 mins.