DVD Review: ‘Battle Royale’

It’s taken me quite awhile, but ‘Battle Royale’ has finally gone from the ‘to watch’ column to the ‘watched’ column. People have compared this story to ‘Hunger Games,’ or vice versa, and there is some validity to it.

In a dystopian future, Japan‘s government takes a novel approach in dealing with youth gone wild during the collapse of the nation’s economy. The Millenial Reform School Act sends 44 Junior High school students to an abandoned island, arms them, and only allows for there to be one survivor. Kitano (Beat Takeshi) is the fellow who is at the center of this all, instructing the students as to what is expected of them and explaining the collars that they wear which have the power to explode.

One of these students is Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who, along with Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) had Kitano as a teacher before he was attacked and left to become instrumental in the Battle Royale. Two teens appear to be especially dangerous and unpredictable, Kazuo (Masanobu Ando) and Mitsuko (Kou Shibasaki). They would be right at home in some sort of anime.

After being briefed (and a few undisciplined kids are ‘corrected’) it is just a matter of hormonal teenagers running around an island with crossbows, guns, sharp objects and…saucepan lids. Yeah, some of the issued weapons are a little useless. There are alliances, there are betrayals, there are random killings as well as some ill-timed romantic attempts.

Who will survive and what will be left of them?

See? The premise is very similar! The big difference is, ‘Battle Royale’ goes a lot further with the violence. It’s not sanitized and PG-13, but extremely gory with a body count of dozens. If you prefer a love triangle and dumbed down, American approach, then this isn’t for you.

A large part of this story is a commentary on Japanese societal attitudes towards young people. Granted, it’s a satirized and exaggerated view, but this is stating an opinion about it. The role reversal is that the adults are all portrayed as bad and foolish while at least a few of the students have some redeeming qualities. Usually, the follies of youth are the targets of morality tales. Not so, here.

The level of action and suspense is further bolstered by the fact that very little time is wasted. Our premise is explained in an efficient manner and we are thrust in the middle of it. There are some environmental dangers as well. Of course, a few kids take the easy way out and off themselves, but most of the deaths are worthwhile. Over 40 people seems like an unmanageable number to dispatch in less than two hours but, it gets done.

The ending is a little strange and hasty. It’s not completely satisfying and doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film’s tone. There is the question of why one character protects a few of the less threatening students. This is bluntly explained at the end, but it doesn’t quite make sense and seems to serve the plot more than the character. We also have to sit through a few flashbacks that come out of nowhere and add little to the story. We don’t care too much about the characters’ relationships prior to the battle, just the actual game.

Special features include: nothing.

‘Battle Royale’ is a very entertaining story that is a ton of fun to watch. It isn’t necessarily an all-time great contribution to cinema, but it is undeniably cool if you’re into this sort of thing.

Rated R 114 minutes 2000

This post was written by:

When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!

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