Battle Royale

This classic Japanese property (first a novel and then manga and movie) popularised a now pretty mainstream trope (see The Hunger Games, though the author begs ignorance of Battle Royale): a life-and-death free-for-all survival game among reluctant competitors, imposed as a form of social control by a higher political class.

Some spoilers follow.

Kouga Ninpou Chou had two ninja clans fight a proxy war for Tokugawa Ieyasu’s succession. In Battle Royale, the adults turn classes of schoolkids against each other in hatred for what they see as the failures of the next generation. In The Hunger Games, the idyllic Capitol runs the eponymous games as part punishment for past rebellion and part entertainment.

The conceit of the film Battle Royale is more arbitrary than its peers, and due to changes between adaptations, the backstory feels thin. To an extent, this is forgiveable: the story concerns a class of teenagers unexpectedly confronted with barbaric circumstances that explanation would not avert. And in this vein, the students’ reactions and small-group dynamics were the part I found most interesting; and the lack of context and motivations the most frustrating.

I had little idea what to make of the teacher or his relationship with the heroine. Does the movie wish to show that the entire ordeal was a juvenile revenge fantasy of teacher towards his ungrateful students (and by proxy his ungrateful daughter), where his ideal daughter wins? Is it about youth rebellion against a rigged, adult-created system, where the most significant struggles are about relationships between the two sides? I don’t know, and I’m not convinced the movie does either.

The hero is the actor who plays Light Yagami of Death Note, so I didn’t feel a great deal of sympathy for him. The psychopathic killer seemed like an extreme action-movie plant that weakened the movie as a reflection of realistic situations. Many of the subplots (eg the leading female killer, the hackers) seemed curtailed too early.

All up it’s something of a breakthrough movie for its time, but not an entirely coherent one, best seen for its portrayal of teens reacting to extreme circumstances.


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