Viking Night: Battle Royale
By Bruce Hall
July 3, 2012
It’s said that the kids are randomly selected but immediately after the following setup, that would seem not to be true. A high school teacher named Kitano (Bito Takeshi) is stabbed one day by an unruly student. In that one moment, he makes the decision to quit his job, utterly abandon the principles he’s upheld as a father and educator and become head of the Battle Royale committee. By sheer coincidence, it’s the very next year that Kitano’s old class is selected to brutally murder each other for his amusement in Japan’s answer to Wrestlemania meets the Super Bowl, if the Super Bowl was not on television and the WWE would just let The Rock decapitate Edge already...crap I just dated myself again.
So let’s recap, because I want to reiterate something. Japanese society collapses, and it’s because of those teenagers and their damn loud music and smart mouths. So, the government starts rounding them up and making them kill each other for fun. Also, Mr. Kitano from class 3B got so sick of children that he quit his teaching job, patiently worked his way up from the mailroom at Battle Royale, became CEO, kidnapped his former students and is now going to force them to slay each other or be executed. All while he giggles and eats their food.
Yes, that IS completely jacked up. But wait, there’s more.
Orientation for Battle Royale includes viewing your new teacher’s badly beaten corpse, a cheerful instructional video where you will learn where, when and how you will meet your death, and watching Mr Katani slaughter the Math Whiz by driving a combat knife into her skull because she spoke out of turn. Yes, this is going to be that kind of movie, and it only gets worse from here. In fact, unless you’re a complete psychopath, it should be very unsettling to see a room full of children murdered and/or intimidated by their old teacher and his stone-faced foot soldiers.
Now, if you’ve only seen the glossy, uplifting film version of The Hunger Games you’ll be surprised to hear that the level and nature of the violence in the novel isn’t much less disturbing. Both stories also involve the protagonists’ journey from adolescent to adult, juxtaposed against the kind of unimaginable adversity only the Apocalypse can provide. But the biggest and most interesting divergence between the two worlds is the way Battle Royale explores its relationships in the context of a high school class. It seems more meaningful because they’re related by more than just a vague sense of shared subjugation.
So when they inevitably form cliques, the lines fall pretty much the way they do socially. The old boss becomes the new boss, as the bigger, meaner kids pry on the smaller ones. Against this backdrop, you’ve got all the genre (how about that, teenage murder porn is now a “genre”) archetypes you’d expect to see. There’s a Survivor - a previous “winner” who is being forced to play again. Then there are the kids who are totally into it - the ones who’d all just eventually end up pumping gas and beating their children, so it’s probably just as well they kill each other off now....so the movie seems to imply.