Battle Royale (2000)

With the upcoming release of The Hunger GamesBattle Royale has been on my mind a great deal. Most fans of Suzanne Collin’s series have no idea that Battle Royale exists, and not only that, but The Hunger Games is heavily indebted to both its novel (written by Kushun Takami) and the film adaptation that came out in 2000. When I point this out, I inevitably hear a retort along these lines:

“Well, it can’t be as good or as cut throat as what Collins created in her trilogy! Her writing style is brutal; she will off her characters in a quick and prudent fashion. They are such intense reads!”

I’m sure all of this is true. Having said that, if you are one of these people, this would be a good time to stop and check out the trailer at the top of this post. Go ahead. I will wait.

Still feel the same way?

The setup is simple: Japanese society has gone to shit. Unemployment is rampant and national morale is low. The government’s solution? Banish one high school class a year to a deserted island, force them to kill each other, and broadcast it for the country’s entertainment pleasure. Three days, no rules, one winner.

And this is not violence just for violence’s sake. On the contrary, something is going on beneath the crimson-soaked surface. Fukasaku creates a nightmare world in which adults have nothing but contempt in their hearts for children — the horrors, tragedies, and emotions of growing up. It was also seen as a film trying to examine the conservative politics that had taken hold of Japan at the time (as much as I love this film, I think some critics are stretching it on this point). Topping it off, it took Reality TV and questioned the ethics behind it just as the phenomenon was in its infancy.Battle Royale remains a controversial film, even by Japanese standards. At one point, it was going to be released in the States, but it was deemed that a post Columbine, 9-11 society couldn’t handle it, and it was axed from even the tiniest of runs. You know, kind of like Donnie Darko, only worse.

I hope that The Hunger Games translates into an outstanding movie trilogy, and capitalizes on how the novels were able to tap into the cultural consciousness. The trailers show potential and, if nothing else, I hope for an entertaining movie-going experience. If it stinks, at least the buzz and hoopla have translated in getting Battle Royale (officially) released on Blu-Ray and DVD. In March, no less, perfectly timed with the release of The Hunger Games. Coincidence? I think not.

-David

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