If my house were ever to catch fire, after sustaining multiple lacerations from somehow getting both cats into the same carrier and to safety, I would them rescue the following items from my burning house: my keys, my wallet, my phone, my laptop and my limited edition steelbook with a frame from the original film negative director's cut DVD copy of Battle Royale. Seriously, I love this film. It's one of my favourite films ever (along with the original Dawn of the Dead and To Kill A Mockingbird), and so I figured what better time is there to review it than today, my 300th review?
In a world where Japan won World War Two and emerged as the world superpower, a huge recession leads the government to take extreme measures to deal with what they see as the problem of delinquent youth - they pass the BR Act. With this Act, every year one middle school class is chosen, kidnapped, shipped off to a remote and uninhabited island, fitted with explosive collars and told they have three days to kill each other off until there's only one of them left. This time around, class 3-B has been chosen; their plight being overseen by their former teacher Kitano, who quit after being stabbed in the rear by delinquent student Kuninobu. Also added to the mix are two "transfer students" - BR veteran Kawada and psychopath Kiriyama, who joined up for fun. Out of the 42 students involved, we primarily follow Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa, but how will they manage to survive when the odds are stacked so high against them?
Battle Royale is of the dystopian sub-genre, and while that puts it mainly in the sci-fi genre, I think it also has at least a toe or two in the horror genre as well. There's something quite horrific, after all, in the idea of being forced to kill your friends in order to survive - even more so when it's all been government-sanctioned, complete with a cheery instructional video to explain it all to you. Director Kinji Fukasaku said that he decided to direct the film version of the novel by Koushun Takami because it reminded him of an incident in his childhood - during World War Two, he and his class were working in a munitions factory that came under fire. When the shelling was over, the survivors had to bury their dead classmates.
There's also horror in the idea of society sacrificing its children for some form of the "greater good", which is a story that goes all the way back to the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. In the years since Battle Royale's release, there have been other films that have had a similar dystopian theme (The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner being the closest, but The Purge movies also have similar themes, and of course there's also The Belko Experiment), but I think they were simplified and, in the former cases, softened a little for a young teenage audience. Battle Royale doesn't pull any punches and shows everything in blunt and brutal Technicolour, treating its audience (teenage or otherwise) as mature enough to handle the themes and images in the film.
Battle Royale also uses music to tremendous effect. Nearly all of its soundtrack is made up of classical music, the most notable being Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem and Johann Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz. The former emphasises the drama and, again, the horror of the movie; the latter offers an almost ironic counterpart as it sometimes plays over the aftermath of life-or-death battles with victims' dead bodies lying in situ.
Characterisation is also strong in the film. Though we primarily follow Shuya Nanahara, Noriko and Kawada, during the course of the film we get insights into the majority of the students being forced to participate in the BR Act, and with the exception of Kiriyama, who's utterly round the twist, nearly all of them have at least some aspect of their personalities that make them sympathetic. Even former teacher Kitano, who seems to have taken the job of overseeing the class slaughter as a form of revenge, and students like the psychotic Mitsuko, have motivations and depths that make their behaviours understandable and maybe even likeable in some cases.
Battle Royale has been banned or otherwise censored in several countries over the years, including Japan, South Korea and Germany, and it didn't get a DVD release in the USA until 2012 due to negative reactions from audiences who connected it to the Columbine massacre. Since 2006 there have also been on-and-off plans for an American remake, although in 2012 one of the men behind that, Roy Lee, said that due to films like The Hunger Games, a Battle Royale remake would be seen as a "copy" of the other film. Personally, I can't see what a remake would add to or improve the original story, especially now that we have such "low-brow" lookalikes like The Purge. Battle Royale is as close to a perfect film as it is and should be seen without having a Western filter placed upon it.