Movie Review: Battle Royale (2001)

Posted: January 31, 2015 in Drama

battle royale

In post-millennial Japan, society is crumbling, the unemployment rate is at 15% 800,000 students have dropped out of school.  The schools are a chaotic mix of violence and death.  A new law, the Battle Royale Law allows kids to be taken from one class in one school, and battle each other to death until only one of the students emerges victorious.  The kids are taken to a deserted island to battle each other to the death.  This year junior high class B is chosen for the Battle Royale.  The kids think they  are going on a class trip, but they are really going to take part in the Battle Royale, with their former teacher, Mr. Kitano (Takashi Kitano) calling the shots.

Shuyo (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is a popular basketball player in school, but his personal life is a mess, his mom ran away from home, and his dad hung himself.  Kuninobo (Yukihiro Kotani) Shuyo’s best friend, dropped out of school, but is convinced by Noriko (Aki Maeda)  a girl that Nobo likes, to go on the class trip, which is really the Battle Royale.  Shuyo and Noriko meet Kawada  (Taro Yamamoto) a transfer student who seems intent on killing students, but offers help to Shuyo and Noriko.  Meanwhile another student named Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) has rigged a generator and plans to fight the Battle Royale in a totally different way.  Can Shuyo and Noriko trust Kawada?  Can they meet up with Mimura and get off the island before everyone kills each other?

I started hearing about this movie after I watched the second Hunger Games movie.  I heard Quentin Tarrantino liked this movie and it was similar to the Hunger Games, but made earlier.  I generally like Asian movies, so I thought I’d give this one a chance.  I was disappointed, there is no explanation, other than a very brief opening scene for the Battle Royale law.  Why will kids killing each other make them easier to discipline?  It might make them more psychotic, but not easier to control.  There are so many themes that the writers of this movie could have concentrated on, bullying, peer pressure, popular kids vs outcasts, and they do, but only briefly.  I can see why Tarrantino liked it, the movie is awash in blood and gore.  Some of the kids get backstories, and others are just fodder for the bloody gore merchants who made this movie.  Moreover, Battle Royale was very predictable, I knew right away who was going to survive and who wasn’t.  There was more than enough time in this film to have a lot more character development, and plot development. But there were too many superficial characters, the girl who sleeps around, the athletic girl, a cold blooded killer and the rest are not even that well drawn out.  I liked Mimura, I wish they had developed his character more, and concentrated more on a way out rather  than all the bloodlust.

The acting was ok.  Fujiwara and Maeda do a decent enough job carrying the movie, Yamamoto is pretty good as Kawada, but the female actors are reduced to mostly screaming ninnies or boy crazy. Takashi Kitano plays the stereotypical stern Asian teacher, with no reason given as to what turned him into a cynical human being.

The movie is almost 2 hours long, and slowly paced for a film of this type.  There are some cryptic dream sequences thrown in just to confuse things a little.  This is not Lord of the Flies or even The Hunger Games, it could have been much more, but settles for a slasher type movie instead.

Battle Royale:  More like a Royale with cheese. Cheesy.

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