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BATTLE ROYALE - - DVD Review

Excited about HUNGER GAMES? Here's your bloodier and more absurd alternative.

Most of your sense of a flick really does come down to context and expectations. If, for instance, ads, friends and (*AHEM*) critics build a movie up too high for you, you’ll react far more harshly to its shortcoming then you would’ve going in blind. With that in mind, it’s a little funny watching BATTLE ROYALE on this 12th anniversary director’s cut disc that’s being put out to coincide with THE HUNGER GAMES’ release and hopefully capitalize on a resurgent interest in movies about teenagers killing each other.

(Granted, the concept was probably around since well before even the writing of ENDER’S GAME, so I don’t know how valid anybody’s armchair accusations of HUNGER GAMES “totally ripping this off” are. Let’s not digress, though…)

BATTLE ROYALE came out around when the internet really started aggregating into the pop culture playground it is today - - an early foreign import for savvier-than-thou writers on entertainment sites like this to champion. It was touted as dangerous filmmaking; a flick that unflinchingly handled material American cinema was too chickenshit to even touch. Hell, it was so extreme, it was banned in the US!

Except it wasn’t banned. A bungled distribution deal was simply spun to sound a lot more titillating than it actually was. Likewise, if you saw this edge-kissing flick after buying all the hype, you got the real “peak-a-boo!” of finding a goofy, goofy movie waiting behind all the hoopla. Despite a butting-pushing (and utterly preposterous) premise, this is a grand guignol satire in the mold of gore-filled, over-the-top, gleefully outrageous cult classics like DEATH RACE 2000 or THE WARRIORS. If you honestly see serious futurism in the notion of the Japanese government instituting a secret program that randomly kidnaps misbehaving high school classes and plops them on an island to kill each other over a weekend, then you might as well accept the prospect that Manhattan’s eventually going to be taken over by gangs of make-up wearing Baseball Furies, too.

Go into this expecting a bloody black comedy and you’ll have a better time. Trust me. You will still think that the flick runs a half-hour too long (pushed over by re-inserted material?) and that it could’ve used more lethal slapstick in place of schmaltzy flashbacks. However, you’ll spare yourself the befuddled feeling that this thriller’s killed its mood when a bad guy, like an uncooperative pro-wrestler opting to “no sell,” inexplicably sits up after getting gunned down at a climactic moment.

The movie’s still got its points to make, but they’re not the kind to be included in the supporting arguments of your mid-term paper on LORD OF THE FLIES. To hazard a guess, the movie’s likely ridiculing parents groups’ hysteria about dangerous youngsters by illustrating their anxieties with the most absurd literalism conceivable. You really have to believe that’s the intent in a movie containing an image like the one right above. If it isn’t, somehow - - if this movie actually thinks it’s making profound statements about man’s inhumanity to man - - then the only thing keeping it from clumsy, direct-to-video sci-fi flicks in Target’s discount bin is the fact that it’s foreign and, therefore, cool.

Let’s go with the first interpretation, then, and appreciate this for its wickedly-funny subversion that's as dry as STARSHIP TROOPERS’ similar “Ha! Let’s put the cast of 90210 to war!” conceit. It’s funny recognizing Tatsuya Fujiwara as the lead in this after he played Light in the DEATH NOTE movies (although there’s not much to say other than that it’s funny to recognize him.) He and the other two parts of the main trio of kids elicit an immediately-appealing sympathy in their performances that transcends language barriers. While the other students’ flashbacks more often feel like padding digressions, the backstory of their love and lost loves slides just the right thickness of pathos under all this mayhem.

The real star, of course, is the multi-hyphenate artist Takeshi Kitano playing essentially an evil version of himself as genre cinema’s drollest villain ever - - an irritated teacher working the system to get payback on these bratty kids for stabbing him in class that one time. His performance is deadpan enough to actually get you to laugh over the prospect that this whole death game’s just a bucket list wish he's scratching off right putting himself out of his own, dryly humorous misery. Yes, the movie can be that kind of morbid funny.

If we must bring this back to THE HUNGER GAMES, then BATTLE ROYALE perhaps presents a less self-serious and more perversely amusing vision of the whole teenage gladiator idea. When you come out of that guaranteed blockbuster in a couple weeks, you can be just like the e-columnists of 12 years ago and talk this lesser-known shocker up to any of your uninformed friends who thought that big Hollywood movie was intense. Just be sure to present it as a comedy, though. Seriously.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of HYBRID BASTARDS! & UNIMAGINABLE. Order them on Amazon here & here. Follow him on Twitter: @tompinchuk

Hailinelon March 5, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.

I would in no way call Battle Royale more absurd than The Hunger Games. As pulpy as it is, there's a realistic quality to Battle Royale. The Hunger Games turns into straight-up fantasy at points.

Actually, this is a pretty poor interpretation of the film overall. It's darkly comedic, yes, but the more pulpish, absurd moments fit the tone of the original novel, which tells a tale of a very bleak alternate reality Japan that uses this program as a means to keep the younger population in line. Is it funny, yes, at parts, but there are also parts that I found disturbing and horrific. As humorous as it can be at points (and the novel had moments that were a riot) it is not a gut-busting black comedy from start to finish. It's a pulpy action-survival movie, sometimes goofy, sometimes grim, that captures the spirit of the source material perfectly. But I would in no way sell this movie as a comedy, even in the ironic sense.

Battle Royale II, which has no connection to the novel and is entirely its own creation, is just bad, however.

Kuro_Sanon March 5, 2012 at 4:31 p.m.

I loved the movie and the manga is one of my favourites....

ohgodwhyon March 5, 2012 at 5:26 p.m.

I thought this was a great film. Easy to watch, didn't make me think too hard while watching it. Just some good old killing with enough plot in my opinion to not get boring.

Dunchadon March 5, 2012 at 5:55 p.m.

Comedy? This? I don't think so.

While it does have its share of ridiculous moments, it's pretty grim all the way through. Brutal murder game set in a bleak enviroment that sets friends and lovers against each other accompanied by grandiose classical music - doesn't really fit my idea of dark/black comedy. And the issues that the movie deals with are not very amusing either. As a whole it may be hard to take it seriously, but I look at it like a collection of tragic stories about how differently everyone deals with the situation: how friends betray each other, lovers commit suicide, others find pleasure in the act of murder and some kill because they're afraid.

When I saw it for the first time, it felt like a very profound experience (Verdi's Dies Irae probably helped a lot with that). What would I do in such a bleak situation, from which there is no escape? If you're unable to suspend disbelief, because of the setting of the story, then the movie becomes a somewhat pointless gore-fest. It's the small tragic stories of each and every student in that class, and the feelings those stories evoke, and the questions that arise from those feelings, that make Battle Royale a worthwhile movie.

fluxwavezon March 5, 2012 at 8:19 p.m.

Like others, I really didn't see Battle Royale as a comedy when I watched the movie and read the novel. I thought the whole situation was pretty grim and although perhaps unrealistic, made me think about how I would handle myself in such a situation.

avidwriteron March 5, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Battle Royale was first obvisouly before Hunger games. However I liked Hunger Games better. At least the first 2 books. Why? The main characters. At least from the BR movies, I didn't care nor do I even remember the main characters. Also the setting for BR was more, strange if I remember correctly. Like they just did it to teach kids a lesson or something? That's a bit of a stretch compared to Hunger Games where the set up was more "realistic".

Superevil225on March 5, 2012 at 10:49 p.m.

We're watching this movie in English class and writing an essay to compare and contrast BR to Lord of The Flies.

Just on a side note, did you know they didn't use the sailor uniforms for this movie because the winter uniform colours were too dark and wouldn't show the blood.

Otherwise, I don't have an opinion on BR. It's good. That's about all.

csl316on March 5, 2012 at 10:56 p.m.

Somehow, this movie's eluded me for years.

Though I saw a dude get stabbed in the junk on Youtube.... and, well... I went and did something else instead.

Hailinelon March 5, 2012 at 11:13 p.m.

@avidwriter: The setting of Battle Royale is an alternate modern day in which World War II ended differently, leaving the world's political landscape in a vastly different shape and Japan a police state. By comparison, Hunger Games is pure fantasy. Also, I prefer Battle Royale for the fact that it actually gave character to most if not all of the students in the class, whereas the competitors in the games were for the most part not even named, nor were they described with any particular detail. Katniss is also a very flat, dull character and a poor choice to use for first-person narration.

majortomson March 6, 2012 at 12:53 a.m.

Saw this at the bottom of the Screened page, had to pop in check out what you guys wrote. Haven't seen Hunger Games yet, but when I heard of the premise of the movie I immediately thought back to BATTLE ROYALE. It must've been about 5-6 years since I've watched it and now I want to again. Loved it back then.

I agree in that almost every character in Battle Royale had some kind of depth and weren't just lumped in as, "other competitors".

DON'T CATCH COLD! *Hands umbrella and walks away*

Eyzon March 6, 2012 at 1:43 a.m.

Always loved Battle Royal^^

Watched it so many time since its original release.

Though honestly I'm not a big fan of the sequel :(

Twinsunon March 6, 2012 at 1:47 a.m.
Fair enough I guess if you can't take it seriously, but I must say it affected me quite a bit. So, comedy for some maybe, but certainly not for me.
pikahyperon March 6, 2012 at 3:40 a.m.

The movie was awesome but the novel was way better, any fan of the movie or manga should try to find a copy of the novel, it was re-released in 2009. I think the manga was one of the very first manga's I ever bought =)

tryptophanon March 6, 2012 at 6:31 a.m.

@Hailinel said:

@avidwriter: The setting of Battle Royale is an alternate modern day in which World War II ended differently, leaving the world's political landscape in a vastly different shape and Japan a police state. By comparison, Hunger Games is pure fantasy. Also, I prefer Battle Royale for the fact that it actually gave character to most if not all of the students in the class, whereas the competitors in the games were for the most part not even named, nor were they described with any particular detail. Katniss is also a very flat, dull character and a poor choice to use for first-person narration.

Main Point:

Not to mention that first person narration is the most disappointing choice of perspective, when your main character is fighting to the death, for the whole story!

Pointless Anecdote:

I work at a bookstore, and about a year ago I heard several customers and employees gushing about The Hunger Games. I kept hearing them come back to how "grim" the story is. I am contemplating writing young adult fiction on the edge of what is "safe" for that audience so, for research purposes, I knew to read the story. So what the hell is the author thinking by placing the main character in the safest haven a writer can put their character? That's not "grim" at all! You can eviscerate, decapitate, and demolecularize your main character, then drag those remaining molecules through the vacuum of space to the surface of the sun, and the reader can rely on the fact that their favorite little hero/ine will not perish. I thought that was just stupid, and bad story choice.

The Point:

But--I am a nobody writer, and Collins chose first person, and is out there doing successfully!

Jonny_Anonymouson March 6, 2012 at 8:13 a.m.

I love Battle Royal it's a great film and I think Hunger Games is just a shameless rip off

Animastaon March 6, 2012 at 8:20 a.m.

@pikahyper said:

The movie was awesome but the novel was way better, any fan of the movie or manga should try to find a copy of the novel, it was re-released in 2009. I think the manga was one of the very first manga's I ever bought =)

yeah agree with you there. Maybe it's just my inherit preference to books though

zaldaron March 6, 2012 at 9:38 p.m.

@tryptophan: Not having read the books I think the grim nature is about the general feel of the world. Young adult fiction usually wants that safety net of knowing the main characters will eventually be OK. George RR. Martin would not work as young adult fiction, at least I doubt it would be very successful. As adult books though? Great stuff!

tryptophanon March 8, 2012 at 8:01 a.m.

@zaldar: True. I must admit I am a little old for those books.

zaldaron March 8, 2012 at 3:55 p.m.

As am I don't worry. If you write something I would be interested in reading it. I am not an author but I am a reader, and fantasy is certainly one of the things I read.

avidwriteron March 10, 2012 at 5:31 p.m.

@tryptophan: I thought the first person was done very well and I can't see The Hunger Games done in third. Also in any book, it's almost a given that the main character is going to survive. First or third, in the The Hunger Games you knew she'd live I mean that's what happens most of the time. Even if she did die, you could still do that first person. I mean, who kills their main character off in the middle of the book?

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A controversial movie based on the novel and manga of the same name by Koushun Takami.

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