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Battle Royale
2000 - unrated - 122 Mins.
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Producer: Akio Kamatani, Tetsu Kayama, Masumi Okada and Masao Sato
Written By: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando and Beat Takeshi
Review by: Bill King
   

Touch the doll and suffer the consequences!
"Battle Royale" is lean, mean and totally without remorse. It paints a nightmarish landscape and deposits its unfortunate characters into a maelstrom of violence. The film illustrates a desperate government bureaucracy and the extreme measures that it is willing to take to control students.

A class of 42 students is hijacked and taken to a remote island, under the provisions of the "BR Act." Things have gotten so bad in futuristic Japan that the government passed this act as a tool to curb aggression and disrespect. This year, it is Shuya Nanahara's (Tatsuya Fujiwara) class that is selected. He and his classmates wake up in a squalid classroom somewhere off the mainland, where they are surrounded by a high-tech security system and armed guards. The class' former teacher, Kitano (Beat Takeshi), walks in to explain the rules of the game. A three-day contest is about to begin, where the students must kill each other to survive. At the end, there can only be one survivor. Each student will be supplied with food, water, a weapon of some sort and a map. They will then go out into the woods and fend for themselves.

This situation proves too despicable for the classmates. They are familiar with each other, some being very close friends, yet the few problem students present were enough to warrant this class for selection. With only their immediate belongings and a bag of equipment, the students rush out of the compound and into the dark, where they must decide whether to play along with the game or wait to be killed. Just to be sure the students don't try anything sneaky, each has been outfitted with an irremovable collar to track his whereabouts.

The catalyst needed to begin the killing is paranoia. Friends can no longer trust each other, and while most of the students abhor the idea of murder, there are some that will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to survive. Shuya maintains a close partnership with his friend Noriko (Aki Maeda). Together, they stay close and try to figure a way out of this scenario. That proves too difficult when they run into classmates who made the decision to kill. A few close scrapes along the way force the two to realize that trusting people is unacceptable. Still, several cliques form to outwit the soldiers. A computer hacker and two friends try to break into the system and disarm the collars. Others band together to urge everyone to stop the game and figure a way out. Time is limited, however. After three days, if there is no single survivor, all the collars will explode.

The movie makes good use of propaganda storytelling to make its point about government manipulation clear. When the students are introduced to the game, they watch an instructional video with a hyper female host in combat gear explaining the rules. Periodically during the day, Takeshi announces the casualty list, and offers congratulations for a high body count and words of disappointment if the number drops. His words blast over a loudspeaker heard all over the island. Throughout the film, text on the screen shows up to give us a summary of the movie's victims.

The movie is nsettling and violent. Students are routinely gunned down in bloody fashion, while others are hacked, stabbed or beaten to death. Just before the beginning of the game, one guy is the victim of the exploding collar, courtesy of Takeshi's silent wrath. Beat Takeshi's role as the teacher is highly appropriate. He is a cult figure in Japan, having directed some of the country's most notable action films (he did not direct this film, though). He is known for his quiet onscreen detachment from the events surrounding him. I haven't been impressed with his movies ("Fireworks," "Brother"), but his lack of emotion fits the character he plays here.

Due to the sensitive nature of the film, "Battle Royale" will probably never see official U.S. distribution. It can be purchased on Region-0 DVD, but only through outlets that specialize in these kinds of films. The idea of students shooting each other gets enough press coverage on television, and a film that turns such a situation into an action movie is a risky endeavor, yet the film does not glorify its subject matter. The characters come across as real students thrown into a contest that they'd rather not have anything to do with. Some of the kids take a perverse pleasure in the killing, but they do so only because a governmental machine drives them. The threat of being subjected to the "BR Act" apparently does not deter students from unruliness, or else it would have been eliminated soon after its passage. In fact, the survivor is scarred for life, as the opening scene reveals with a wicked poignancy.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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