Viking Night: Battle Royale
By Bruce Hall
July 3, 2012
Some kids play along and fight reluctantly. Some get noble and sacrifice themselves. Others get off on dancing in freshly spilled blood while still more refuse to kill, preferring to outwit their jailers and try to find a way out. Our two protagonists, Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda) are just that type of people. Shuya is an orphan whose father committed suicide, and whose best friend Nobu was exploded by Mr.Katani back in the first act. He’s sweet on Noriko, but so was Nobu, so Shuya kept it to himself. But with Nobu now splattered into several pieces, there’s no better time to bond with Noriko than during a no holds barred, three day jungle death match!
Shuya and Noriko’s classmates find their own relationships evolving as well. And that’s the really interesting thing about this movie, as long as you’re okay with a lot of snarky kids giving each other slit throats and massive hatchet wounds. Battle Royale is a movie about what it really means to be a friend. It’s about learning to grow up fast in an unpredictable world or risk being filtered out. It’s part Dawson’s Creek, part Lord of the Flies, if Philip K Dick was a showrunner and Quentin Tarantino wrote novels. I tend to think the level of gore is not necessary to drive home the content, but I found the film version of The Hunger Games to be almost comically sanitary, so I guess I asked for it.
Speaking of The Hunger Games, there are so-called “Danger Zones” (either Top Gun or the concept of irony must be unknown in Japan), although they’re a lot less spectacular here. In fact, we never really see them, so it seems a waste of narrative space to even mention them. Also, the man behind the game has more at stake than we are first led to believe. And both films utilize a series of flashbacks. Battle Royale manages to craft a surprisingly rich back story for class 3B. Hunger Games used the device less effectively - to gloss over large chunks of the novel and cut down on run time. It’s the personal touch that makes Battle Royale stand out from its descendant.
The Hunger Games strikes me as a clarion call to Liberty. Character back stories felt less important to me than the events happening around them. But with the exception of one bafflingly divergent pinch point, Battle Royale declines to go the broad, political route. It focuses almost exclusively on the shifting interpersonal dynamic between classmates. It’s a far more intimate, engrossing - and in the third act, starkly philosophical - movie than I am comfortable admitting. And I should mention the movie makes good use of the idea that what happens in the jungle is pretty much the same thing that goes on in the halls at school, just with lots of guns. And knives. And tasers. And lawn tools.
Hey, there’s even some good old fashioned, American style action! Guns that never run out of ammo, people diving toward the camera in slow motion while something explodes right behind them but somehow does not harm them in any way...even the occasional pithy one liner. And since it’s hard to see the point of it all, Battle Royale literally spells it out for you right at the end. I can’t say it really justifies watching children blast each other in half with machine guns for 90 minutes, but it’s something worth thinking about. And did I mention it’s one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films?
It’s got the blood red seal of approval from the warped, ADHD afflicted mind that created Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. Two severed thumbs up from the manic genius who single handedly keeps Red Bull in business. Case closed.