These are our four categories for this list:
These guys have had it too easy. Far too easy. Don’t believe the insane hype.
Good flicks that have gotten too damn big for their britches.
Asshole, you love this film for all the wrong reasons.
WHAT THE FUCK
Something went horribly wrong here and it’s carried over the the fans, who are blinded by shizer.
Why Battle Royale is Overrated
Your guide: Russ Fischer
CHUD’s Logline: They call us problem child / We spend our lives on trial / We walk an endless mile / We are the youth gone wild.
Its Legacy: Gave acclaimed director Kinji Fukasaku his last full slate of call sheets. Furthers the tradition of ‘banned’ films that actually couldn’t get distribution. Japan’s reputation as home of rational thinking set in stone. Unexpected sequel for Beat Takeshi’s paintbrush from Hana-Bi. Suggested groin cutting to Tarantino. Takeshi Kitano no longer gets work as a substitute teacher. Disappoints British tabloids hoping for Harry on William action.
Why It’s Here: Battle Royale has all the ingredients to become a devastating blend of Orwell and Lord of the Flies: a wild premise, satirical bent, distrust of authority and a willingness to shock. At the outset, it tries to sucker us in with the funny via a parody of Japanese instructional videos and the sadistic instincts of Takeshi Kitano running free. But it becomes a two-note tune. Teen angst and violence are conjoined to push soap opera ennui instead of the thin line between society and savagery. There’s little actual satire or commentary here, leaving just the horror of the situation. But that horror — two hours of attractive Japanese kids killing each other — induces sleep like a bottle of Tylenol PM dissolved in Kool-Aid. (One sequence rates high: the lighthouse breakdown, which ends up looking like a marriage of Sam Peckinpah and the art of Henry Darger.)
Puncturing the tedium is a teenage grizzled vet and his villainous counterpart who kills for pleasure. Grizz can do just about anything — heal wounds, cook a nice meal, pilot a boat, deactivate explosive dog collars. His nemesis is less talented, but blessed with endless ammunition. My understanding is that these characters were different in the source novel; here they unbalance the entire movie, pushing the already unstable tone from bleakly satirical to mentally impaired. Adding insult to injury, is that the Japanese Sublime playing over the end credits?
A Moment of Piss: You know the movie’s about to go to pieces when Takeshi Kitano mysteriously appears from the jungle to offer an umbrella to his favorite student. The movie’s version of his character could be key — he’s really as much a delinquent as his worst students — but Fukasaku bungles him by letting Kitano get away with weird moments of whimsy like the umbrella and a painting of all the dead children with the girl, Noriko, alive and triumphant.
These Ain’t Chopped Liver Alternatives: Wedlock (for exploding collar satisfaction), Lord of the Flies (1963), Lost
Nick Nunziata Agrees: Part of the problem with Battle Royale is the fact it exploded into geek culture with such a thunderous impact, in the small circles that discovered it as this somewhat notorious and cool little film it was already riding a steady crest of hype. The presence of Takeshi Kitano and the fact there’s a lot of fun and just totally bonkers stuff definitely makes the film something most people would find merit with and wouldn’t easily forget. That said, the film tends to enjoy the teen violence a little more than it should in balance with the obvious and powerful social commentary, especially since there’s no shortage of teen-based crime in evidence everyone can identify with to strengthen the film’s message. It takes the easy road, reveling in the violence [which is done well and somewhat unflinchingly] instead of glaring even more darkly into the Japanese education structure and the incredible competition therein. Instead it has a little fun with concept but glances off the bow of being fully deserving of the status is has and some of the characterizations are just painful to watch. The fact there’s a sequel doesn’t help, because as much as this site and myself joke about some of the more macabre aspects of real life and how we treat each others, there’s a certain amount of grace you have to have when telling a story like this and though there are some poignant moments (as illustrated by the other boys in this article), it still feels a little cheap. It’s cool. Very cool. But it’s cheap. And overrated.
Justin Waddell Disagrees: The tone in this thing is all over the map – well, the parts of the map that haven’t been ruled danger zones, at least. But when you shoot a hodgepodge this well, who am I to complain? The movie manages to be a blast to watch, hard to stomach, and just plain heartbreaking all at the same time. One minute, our hero is realizing that the pot lid that he just pulled from his survival pack is actually his assigned weapon. The next we see two friends, hand-in-hand, choosing to jump to their deaths rather than participate in this sadistic game of last student standing. What I like most about the movie is how Fukasaku is able to paint who these kids are in just a few brushstrokes – a couple of lines of dialogue or a painful high school flashback – before violently dispatching them. The students are being forced to off each other, but secret crushes and petty jealousies still impact the proceedings. Takeshi Kitano, as the nutso ex-professor, does indeed run roughshod all over this thing. His delight at causing and watching the teenagers die and then coolly announcing it (“Twelve dead. The pace is good.”) is certainly disturbing. But I will admit to being confused by the connection between Kitano and Noriko, the female survivor. Oh, well. Maybe you need to be from a country that actually values education (to an insane extent, according to this movie) to get all that stuff. Russ kindly singled out the two ringers above. Kawada, the veteran, who is there to underscore what we know as soon as Kitano flings a knife into the forehead of Girls #18: First prize is an illusion. And Kiriyama, the guy who joined for kicks, is a walking, wild-haired Anime character come to life. My favorite shots in the movie are of him blinded by fire but still ticking. Sure, Battle Royale may be a mishmash. But spoon me out another bowl, please. One, hopefully, with better English subtitles at some point.
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