When The Hunger Games hit theaters a lot of fans of Japanese cinema cried foul (as they are want to do). Many of the same concepts and style were already unleashed on the world back in 2000 in Battle Royale. I’ve actually had this movie on my radar for a few years, because it came up as one of the most brutal movies featuring teenagers killing each other ever put to film. It had quite a reputation when it came out on DVD way back when, but I never got around to seeing it. Well Netflix obtained it and I figured it was time to see what all the fuss was about.
In a dystopian future Japan deals with it’s youth problems in a special way. Each year forty two students are put on a deserted island for three days. They are each given a bag with a random item (could be a weapon, could be survival gear) and some food and water. Each is fitted with tracking collar. If they try to remove the collar it explodes. If they stay in one place too long it explodes. At the end of each day, the death toll is announced and players can see who is left.
Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) keeps an eye on the tracking screens and provides statistics as the days pass. But he also appears to have a special interest in some of the kids, and goes out into the field on a number of occasions. It doesn’t take long for a couple of the kids to figure out that if they take out Kitano they may be able to escape from this very deadly Battle Royale.
- Relentless pacing keeps the whole film exciting and disturbing
- Becomes a study in how different people cope with life or death struggles
- Has a dark sense of humor that will make you laugh out loud a few times
- Brutal and cruel for the entirety of the running time
- Never delves into the world that created this situation
- Performances and style may be too over the top for some viewers
At times Battle Royale feels like a live action anime, with a style that is in your face and at times darkly comic. This tone may be the major distraction for some viewers. But if you can get into its crazy groove the movie is entertaining and disturbing all at once. The social commentary isn’t lost, but the movie makes sure you aren’t beat over the head with it. I can see why the film was so popular when it came out, but if you’re looking for a Japanese version of The Hunger Games you may be disappointed.
Scores (out of 5)
Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.