Foreign Favourites series: Battle Royale

I’ve been keen to get my friend Neel involved in my Foreign Favourites film series, ever since he set up his Dohabitation blog. Like the guy himself, the blog is funny entertaining and very colourful, and tells of his adventures since moving to Doha. Definitely worth heading over. Without any further ado, here are his thoughts on disturbing thriller Battle Royale.

Battle Royale film poster

Quick Synopsis: (IMDB)

In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary “Battle Royale” act (IMDB).

Years before the hunger games trilogy was even written, an undiluted, controversial dystopian vision free of Hollywood constraints was conceived in Japan. Battle Royale sent shockwaves through the world of cinema, a masterpiece of dark satire, hyperviolence and a commentary on the fear and anxiety in Japanese society. I have seen films with better performances, better special effects, better storylines and even films more violent, but as an overall experience very films have left such an imprint on me as Kinji Fukasaku’s turn of the century bloodbath. Quentin Tarantino has said this is one of his favourite movies and one review of the film suggested if he had written a school play it would probably have been this.

It's a pain in the neck


Set in the near future at the time (2002 to be exact), Japan is on the brink of economic collapse. Japanese youth are in rebellion and the government has responded with a severe crackdown via the Battle Royale Millennium Act. Every year a 9th grade class is selected for a last man standing style fight to the death (sound familiar?). A UKIP voter/Daily mail reader’s idea of a school trip for troublesome youth then takes shape as a drugged and sedated group of 40 students wake up on a remote island to be informed by their pissed off former teacher of the itinerary to come.Β  They are made to watch an informative video guide to what they are about to witness and a few tips on how to survive (basically kill everyone else before they kill you).

The plot is fairly simple and provides far less of a backstory than the hunger games. Media coverage of the event and the thoughts of wider society is given surprisingly little scope in the film and many characters are killed off too quickly for us to really get to know them. The two standout characters, Shuya and Noriko have the obligatory lovestory but the film to its credit doesn’t dwell on this in the typical Hollywood tick the boxes cheesefest you usually see (how many films have you seen where the love story serves no real purpose and the film would be no worse without one?). The film is shot at a frenetic pace and rarely lets up.

Knife violence

Comical fight scenes are abundant with completely over the top performances and ludicrous final speeches capture the moments brilliantly. The actors look like they are having an absolute blast filming this and is what this makes this film so special. One magical moment was when the students were given weapons before being booted into the jungle to fend for themselves. One unfortunate chap was given a dustbin lid and the look on his face when he knew he’d have to face 39 others armed with machetes, knives et al was comedy gold. All the cliques you see in high school are represented and are played out in brilliant fashion with the popular kids, the nerds and the jocks all coming to a grisly end one way or the other.

In a lot of ways, the darkly comic tone is crucial to the film’s success as the idea of sending teenagers who have barely experienced life to a pointless and meaningless death would be deeply depressing and upsetting. The absurdity of this film is what makes it so riveting and enjoyable but on another level quite thought provoking. What is often overlooked is the brilliant musical score and having watched it on VHS many years ago, I am looking forward to watching the rerelease on Blu-Ray in the future.

This isn’t the most intelligent film you will ever see but in terms of direction and sheer thrills its hard to beat. There are other films that could provide you with a more detailed insight and understanding of Japanese culture but few that have the flair and sense of humour of this one. It also spawned several sequels which although enjoyable can’t match the original for being such a breath of fresh air and so unique at the time. If you abhor violence then this is clearly not the film for you. Some people would find the subject matter wildly offensive and controversial but then this film clearly wasn’t made for them. However if you are a fan of incredibly dark comedy, over the top horror films and want something to watch after a stressful day, I urge you to watch this!

Final Verdict: A –

Thank you Neel for such a fantastic review of such a great film. It’s a film I’ve long been fond of, and have already included it in my Back to School Blogathon, Desert Island FilmsΒ andΒ Anti-Establishment quiz. So many great points in your review. “If you abhor violence then this is clearly not the film for you” is my favourite. Makes you wonder what those people would make of Itchi the Killer mind…


33 thoughts on “Foreign Favourites series: Battle Royale

  1. “I have a rifle.” “I have a pistol.” “I have a pot.” Yep, happens.

    A bit of trivia: the woman who does the introductory video for the kids when they arrive is Miyamura Yuko, the voice actress of Asuka in “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” It’s one of the few credits where you actually see her.

  2. One of my favorite movies πŸ™‚ Besides the actress that later played GoGo in Kill Bill, the girl in BR who was on the killing spree was supposed to be in KB too. The part got cut :-\

  3. Great review! This is one of my absolute favorite movies. It was fantastic. Unfortunately I haven’t read the book yet so I definitely to get to that!

  4. Totally wasn’t expecting to hear that this is a dark comedy. I’m definitely interested now, I’ve always kind of steered away from this as I imagined it to be a deeply upsetting and depressing film. Haha

  5. I love this movie. It’s exactly what you say it is. My daughters are Hunger Games fans. I told them I’m going to show them this so they could see it done right. Might scar them for life, though.

  6. Pingback: Guest series: Foreign Favourites | Alex Raphael

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