Not Quite a Remake Rematch between
Battle Royale (2000) and The Hunger Games (2012)
7.7/10 with 136,729 user votes -- RT-link
Tomatometer 86%/user rating 89% with 85,445 votes
Year: 2000 Director: Kinji Fukasaku -- Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama -- Screen Writer: Kenta Fukasaku -- Length: 113 min. Color/Stereo -- estimated budget: $4,500,000 -- estimated revenue: uncertain
What would happen if teenagers began to totally disregard their elders' commands, and became uncontrollable? What kind of pushback would you see from the grownups? Certainly it would be nothing like the law that is passed in this fictional tale. In Koushun Takami's novel the story is set in The Republic of Greater East Asia. The Battle Experiment No. 68 Program has been going on since 1947. Every junior high student in the RGEA knows about it. Dreads it. Rationalizes that there is only a 1:800 chance that their class will be one of the 50 classes chosen every other year. Naturally, for the protagonists of Takami's novel this small chance catches them all. As 15-year olds they are tossed into a co-ed arena in which they must kill and be the last one standing, or die at the hands of their equally young classmates and friends.
Kinji Fukasawa's movie becomes a near-future dystopian tale of future Japan. In the movie, the Battle Royale Act has been passed to quell the recalcitrance and belligerence of teenagers in the nation. It is fair to say that both the best-selling novel and hit movie are infamous to many, rather than famous (as they are to the rest who know of them).
This is a grim film no matter which way you look at it. The novel itself is grim, but all the images were in my head when I read
it, and they weren't quite so graphic and harsh as what Kinji Fukasaku and crew splash up onto the screen. And that was my response to reading the 610 page English translation of the novel after I had watched the movie twice.
Both the film and the novel were targets of unsuccessful Japanese parliamentary attempts to ban them. The film has been banned in some countries, but never the USA. Takami wrote a manga version of Battle Royale
that began appearing in 2003, the same year that the Viz Media translation that I read was published. The manga takes several aspects of the story farther, and pushes the boundaries of tastefulness even harder than the novel or the movie.
Before I watched the movie for the first time, on 20 October 2010, I wasn't sure I wanted to see it. Yet, the idea of learning how someone had made
such a film, such a free-for-all kill-fest, with a large budget...that
drove me to give it a look. I was repulsed by the film on first viewing, of course. The film sets up the expectation of being repelled by what you are about to see, when it shows you a deranged, smiling young female victor who has obviously lost all sense of reality after killing who knows how many of her classmates. Then, you are marched immediately into the next year's Battle Royale event. Within a few moments, there is already one dead girl and one dead boy, and the kids haven't even been issued their battle gear, yet.
Like most people my age, I was aware of no-budget cinematic kill-fests that had been made and released to the kinds of movie theaters that I would never go to. Actually, I couldn't
go to those theaters, because I was underage in those days. I would not have been allowed to see the films, even if I had wanted to. They were schlock features with gore and sex, and you could read about them sometimes, and hear about them from people who had seen them; but what they were said to show was just unbelievable. Even more unbelievable, now that I've seen trailers for some of those films! There were even rumors in the 1970s of "snuff films" where the killings on screen were real. The idea was not so unbelievable for a generation who had seen this kind of thing
But Battle Royale
was different, because it was/is a mainstream Japanese feature film. It plays on gore, just as the grind-house movies did, but doesn't use sex or nudity very often. When people are shot or die in The Tenth Victim
, there is no blood. The deaths are not real, and the whole thing seems like a satire. The deaths in Battle Royale
are also not real, but they are disturbing.
shares certain aspects with The Lord of the Flies
: both feature a group of kids who descend into savagery as the major characters. And both movies have some kids who resist the savage instincts, as other major characters. Both are set on a remote island, which is uninhabited, although in Battle Royale
a government-mandated evacuation has been made in order to allow the games to proceed.
I once wrote a kind of stunned analysis of this film, but I cannot find it by searching The Corrierino. It might actually be in this thread. But I basically attempted to understand the existence of this film and its source novel as the result of a culture that could willingly face such grisly ideas as that of kids killing kids. Well, this kind of thing happens in the US on a sadly regular basis, although outside the entertainment realm. Suzanne Collins and her publisher dared to tread the same entertainment waters with The Hunger Games
. And that became a series of books and films that have done well in the market. But what does that say about us?
At 40 minutes into the movie, there are only 24 of 42 kids left alive. It is not a spoiler to say that at 1;36;10 one of the characters dies, leaving only 3 alive out of the 42 who started. In other words, the government-mandated slaughter is not averted in this movie, but remains the point that drives the entire plot to the bitter end.
Here are some points of the film and and a few words about whether I like them or don't care for them:
The filmmakers took a totally implausible story, with a no-chance-in hell-theme, and made a social commentary from it. The social commentary isn't as obvious when you read the novel. And, thankfully, it isn't totally obvious in this movie.
The use of classical music for most of the score in this film allows some part of the experience to be familiar to the audience, because so much of it is totally outside normal human experience.
In a sense, this is a "normal" survival story with the bizarrity of kids murdering kids, added to it.
The novelist and filmmaker freely admit by what they show the characters doing, that not everyone would go along with such a government mandate.
The death agony of these youngsters is not minimized, and may be a little exaggerated in a few instances. But when showing something disgusting, Fukasaku does not attempt to candy-coat it and make it palatable. We are accustomed to seeing bullets blow people across the room in films (an outcome that is not possible given the state of Physics in our universe), and seeing a person killed by a single shot to the torso. Not true to life at all. And these exaggerations never happen in Battle Royale
. Even multiple hits with the bullets from Kiriyama's automatic weapon don't necessarily put a kid (or an adult) totally out of commission. One bullet, or several bullets into the torso does not kill the character. A bullet to the brain does. An axe to the brain doesn't result in immediate death.
There are a few moments of purposeful humor in the film, although these are subverted in their effect on first viewing because of the constant slaughter. For example, as Nanahara is carrying Nakagawa to a clinic on the island they come to a gate; and as he contemplates how to open it with her on his back, he bumps the rusty gate and it falls over. Later, one character who has been shot and is presumed dead, rises to answer a cell phone call.
This is not a feel-good film. Yet, it does not show only the brutal side of human nature. It is a remarkably thoughtful piece of work (if someone half Fukasaka's age had helmed it, the result would probably have been less thoughtful) and it is, thus, a thought-provoking
movie. It spurs the audience to think about what they see, yet the gory ambiance will draw in kids who would otherwise avoid almost any film with a "social message."
One person can make a difference even though the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against them. This is a theme of many films, and needs to be part of anything this bloody. But Battle Royale
raises the question of whether the idea is valid. Certainly that secondary theme satisfies dramatically, causing the story center in our brains to be reconciled to all the bad that we've seen before this happens. But in this film, the ability to make a difference is reduced to: one person can make a difference for two others. But not
for everyone. Which, in a backhanded way, says that helping even one or two is better than helping no one, in a moral sense.
The film requires me to distance myself too much from my emotions in order to watch it. That makes me feel inhuman during the viewing. I prefer to be able to be more emotionally connected to the films that I watch.
The screenplay delves into more melodrama and pushes more sentimentality than I recall from the novel.
Don't Like, but Forgivable:
Because of Japanese acting conventions, the characters in this film are sometimes played in an over-the-top way that is just grating to Western sensibilities. But this occurs in intense emotional moments, and not in the rest. In fact, it's almost like watching anime that has live-action instead. Because I don't know that much about Japanese culture and theatrical conventions I must assume that these "excesses" are coming into play because of theatrical conventions stemming from Japanese culture (rather than believing that some of the actors are only competent on days with letter u
in their names; and on the other three days of the week they can't act for crap).
This flaw stems from a change to Koushun Takami's concept for the novel. The flaw was generated by the film. The kids in the class that is randomly chosen for the current staging of the Battle Royale are unaware of the law behind it. Totally unaware. Never have heard of The Battle Royal Act. So, what would be the purpose of such a law? Deterrence could not be it. A law that threatens you with death would not be a deterrent if you were ignorant of it. Plus, being chosen randomly
with your entire 9th grade class means that whatever you
do good or bad, won't have any affect on whether you wind up in the arena.
There are too many characters for the viewer to relate to them all, but only a handful are bystanders who don't do something interesting. That is, it is like this among the 21 boys and 21 girls, plus "Beat" Takeshi Kitano as their 7th grade teacher, "Mr. Kitano." The main characters number only four, but they interact with others from time to time. It is almost as if the Fukasaku writing and directing team are telling us that "these people don't matter."
And yet, this might become part of the social commentary. We all live around people who, like these characters, have names, but their names don't matter to us. They don't matter because they are non-persons to us, mere warm bodies in our vicinity for a brief time, and then they are gone. This is part of the cultural fallout from living in a high-population area, such as a city.
The ridiculous speed with which Mimura types code on his laptop. Gah!
The ending is slightly hoky.
Takami's novel probably should never have been written, or at least should not have been published. -- But why not? Gotcha!
Reading the book and seeing the film hasn't spurred me to commit murder. One of the fears of the Japanese censors was that the film would do just that -- cause a rise in the murder rate in Japan. In fact, some tried to link the film to a teen crime wave in Japan. I'd never say that people who actually believe
the thesis sentence of this paragraph are wrong. It's undoubtedly what they feel
when they think of such a fictional piece.
And I wouldn't encourage them
to watch the film before making up their minds. They would be very disturbed by what they saw. I would only remind them that they like certain kinds of entertainment that I don't think of as entertainment at all. If I am open-minded enough to watch such a movie, then I think the opportunity should not be removed from me by force. On the other hand, I can't say that the novel or the film are "moral" stories. They are social commentaries. It is difficult to decide whether the novel is a satire. Also, I have learned in the course of my life that many people flat out don't understand satire.
The trouble is that many who revile the story in the novel and film, also don't understand concepts like "social commentary," where an author or filmmaker will hold up a particular social idea to be examined artistically. The selected idea is often ugly. After all, people don't try to ban films that hold up the more beautiful
parts of culture to examination, do they?
This story could be seen to ultimately ask the question: where does the boundary lie for saying that capital punishment for a misdeed is going too far? If massive death can be used as a "deterrent" for misbehavior, then what is the value of an individual human life? Pretty damn low. Is this a reflection of the real culture in which we live? I hope not.
When I first heard that The Hunger Games
series of novels would be made into films, I had never heard of those novels. Upon learning what they tell about, I couldn't believe that they were about teenagers being forced to kill other teenagers. Then I had to stop and think, "Well, that's almost just like Battle Royale
." I read the three novels by Suzanne Collins. I saw the first film, but that was enough for me. When it finally came time for me to think of new pairs of films that I could compare, whether strict remakes or not, Battle Royale
and The Hunger Games
were among the first that I thought of!
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Battle Royale (film)
. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. "For eleven years, the film was never officially released in the United States or Canada, except for screenings at various film festivals. The film was screened to a test audience in the U.S. during the early 2000s, not long after the Columbine High School massacre, resulting in a negative reaction to the film's content. According to the book Japanese Horror Cinema
, 'Conscious of the Columbine syndrome, which also influenced the reception of The Matrix
(1999), much of the test audience for Battle Royale
condemned the film for its "mindless" and gratuitous violence in terms very reminiscent of the British attitude towards Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs
(1971) on its initial release."
Battle Royale (2000) Full Cast & Crew
. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. "Battle Royale
takes place in a fictional police state version of Japan known as the Republic of Greater East Asia (Dai Toa Kyowakoku
). From time to time, fifty randomly selected classes of secondary school students are forced to take arms against one another until only one student in each class remains. The program was created, supposedly, as a form of military research, with the outcome of each battle publicized on local television."
. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. "After graduating from Osaka University with a degree in literature, he dropped out of Nihon University's liberal arts correspondence course program. From 1991 to 1996, he worked for the news company Shikoku Shimbun, reporting on various fields including politics, police reports, and economics."
. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. "He focused on historical epics; Shogun's Samurai
(1978), The Fall of Ako Castle
(1978), Samurai Reincarnation
(1981); and science fiction; Message from Space
(1978) and Virus
was Japan's most expensive production at the time, and became a financial flop. However, two years after it he directed the highly acclaimed comedy Fall Guy
, winning both the Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year and Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year."
. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. "He made his writing debut in the popular Japanese cult film Battle Royale
, which his father directed. He wrote the screenplay to the sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem
, and took over directing when his father died of cancer. The film was released in Japan during the winter of 2003."
. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Batoru rowaiaru (Battle Royale)
. from Box Office Mojo. Data incomplete.
Box office / business for Battle Royale (2000)
. from IMDb.
Battle Royale - Dan Norman
. From Sonder magazine. source of image. Also, review of movie. "As we see a wide range of responses to the Battle, Fukasaku gives nearly every student their own individual subplot, characterising each of them. Not a character is wasted or put on screen to simply be a throwaway body."
Battle Royal manga
online at MangaEden. For now you can read this for yourself, and see if you agree that it exhibits less "tastefulness" than either the novel or the film.
Blood Splatter Nineteen