Could you kill your friends and classmates if it meant survival? Kinji Fukasaku's 2000 film Battle Royale toyed with this very question. The film is set in Japan, at the dawn of the millennium, and the nation is collapsing. Unemployment is rising, students are boycotting school. In response, the adults fear the younger generation is out of their control and pass the Millennium Educational Reform Act, also known as Battle Royale – a program that puts students on an island to compete for a place in society.
This class, filled with close friends, lovers, enemies, is taken to an island, given a bag of supplies along with a random weapon each, and told that they must kill each other for a place in society. The catalyst used to make them murder each other is a collar, fitted to each of the student’s necks. The collar contains a tracker and an explosive. They are told that if there is no clear survivor in three days, they all die. By making sections of the island “danger zones” (a section in the island in which any students detected have their collar explode) the students are herded, which leads to confrontations of lovers, friends and enemies. The film follows this class of high school students, exploring their lives with flashbacks while they struggle for survival.
This is a very complex film that jumps around and has many side stories, but its folllows a main idea. How would the government would handle themselves in a situation when the students are out of control. Pitting these students against each other results in an epic bloodbath throughout a hazardous island. The director uses the situation and setting to bring out the characters' dark sides after exposing the innocence they once had by using flashbacks. Pitting these students against each other results in an epic bloodbath throughout the island. The connection with each character’s story makes the action and killing meaningful, a refreshing change from the usual box-office action film.
The film’s protagonist, Shuya, is a kind and gentle kid, whose main goal throughout the film is protecting Noriko, the girl whom he loves. We learn about his troubled past, and after he finds Noriko on the island he vows to protect her. She becomes his motivation to attempt survival in this twisted game. They also meet a man named Kawada who survived the game when he was younger, and the three of them band together to survive. The rest of the students are clichéd and stereotypical students, the jocks, nerds, crazy outcast girl, etc. but all have their own unique story.
The film builds a strong bond between the characters and viewer by using flashbacks to show how normal these kids are. The strange social wall usually found in high school is broken by the game. Knowing they are about to die, they no longer care what their classmates think and let their true emotions show. Some characters battle inner conflict, some search for love, some go on killing sprees, and others maintain friendships by working together to find a way off of the island. We get to view nearly all of the 42 classmate’s defining moment throughout the movie. At times we can almost see a subtext, especiallywhen characters are dying, and it is set up in such a way that the viewer knows their last thoughts even if they aren’t said aloud.
This is a foreign film everyone should watch once, because its concept is something we would never see come out of Hollywood. The film had a very successful release in Japan but was removed from theatres because of worried parents. Battle Royal is a thought provoking film that gives the viewer a well- rounded experience. This movie has love, friendship, endless bloodshed, hilarious twists and it makes you ask the question; would you kill your best friends and classmates for survival and a place in society?