Thursday, 3 June 2010

Nothing's Against The Rules.

Damn, no wonder no distribution agreement has ever been made for Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale in the US. I mean, the film released three days after 9/11 here in the UK, so you can just imagine what would have happened had it been going out about the same time in the States. Gregor Jordan's Buffalo Soldiers was knocked back a solid 18 months (after signing on September 10 if my memory serves me), so a film about a class full of fifteen year olds killing themselves? Acclaim or no acclaim, that was going to be a hard sell to audiences in the early noughties.

Based on Koushun Takami's novel, Battle Royale is quite full on. It is, quite literally, a film about a bunch of fifteen year olds killing each other. As editcted by the Millenium Educational Reform Act (also known as the Battle Royale Act), each year, a selected class of fifteen year olds is taken to a deserted island. There, they are given survival packs containing food and a randomly selected 'weapon' (ranging from guns and axes to saucepans and binoculars), they have explosive collars attached to them, and are set loose with three days to kill each other. The last person standing is the winner. If, after three days, there is more than one person still alive, then the collars are detonated, killing everyone.

Seriously, that is the premise of the film. And it's a disturbing one. However, within these circumstances Fukasaku sketches portraits of youth, anger, loyalty and friendship, and how deep this runs. Within minutes of being set loose these kids suddenly are thrust into the world of grown-ups, where kill or be killed (outside of Battle Royale, metaphorically more often than literally) is a daily game. And probably the most terrifying thing about the film is how readily these kids adapt, how prepared they are to enter into a game not of all-for-one, but of all-for-me. Really, it feels so much like an indictment on how kids are forced to deal with so much more so much earlier in life - and the fact that Fukasaku was inspired to approach the novel is drawn from his time as a munitions worker when he was fifteen during WWII makes you think that this is not an altogether new phenomenon. 

Through the violence is permeated a degree of humanity between some of the characters, including one of those who has chosen to take part or return. But these moments of hope are tempered by the butchery all around, to the point that one wonders whether Fukasaku really believes that this is how life works. The kids do terrifically in a not-particularly-stylised setting (unlike, say, the Kill Bill films, which revel in similar ultra-violence under cover of un-reality), matched by a terrific orchestral soundtrack comprised of both original and existing classical recordings.

It's hard core viewing. It's not particularly uplifting. But it is a very good film. It wears its anger on its sleeve, subtlety is not its strong point, but in its honesty it cuts deep. 4.5 stars.

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