3 May 2016



I first saw BATTLE ROYALE about four or five years ago, back in the days before I'd starting devouring Asian horror cinema by the truckload, like I do nowadays. I must admit, I was a bit bemused by it first time around. I just didn't get it, haha. I just didn't understand why the government of any country would do such a thing. It just didn't seem right, you know?

Since them, I've learned a thing or two about Asian cinema, both horror and non-horror. Well, certainly enough to appreciate a mind-blowing cinematic achievement like Kinji Fukasaku's BATTLE ROYALE, anyway. Having re-visited the film from an infinitely more informed place, as it were, I was able to enjoy it more, for one thing. I didn't really enjoy it first time around.

Now, as well, I can see why the film (like the 1996 book on which it was based) was mired in controversy when it first came out. To tell the honest-to-God truth, it's pretty f***ing extreme, if you'll pardon my French...! It was treated a bit like the Japanese 'STRAW DOGS' or the Asian 'A CLOCKWORK ORANGE' when it came out. If you're familiar with either of these two marvellous movies (which of course you are!), you'll understand the analogy.

Here's what it's all about. There's this classful of teenage Japanese students, see? They don't seem to me to be any better or worse than your average schoolies, except that one of them may have stabbed their teacher Kitano in the butt. As the teacher is played by legendary Japanese director and tough-guy actor Takeshi Kitano, I can wholeheartedly assure you that it is not a good idea to stab him anywhere on his person, least of all in his pert little gluteus maximus.

Any-hoo, the students of 3-B are tricked by their teacher into believing that they're going on a school trip, when in fact they're not. Well...! If that ain't just the ultimate swizz! The students are drugged and taken to a remote island, where their teacher Kitano smugly informs them that they've been chosen by their government to participate in a jolly old Battle Royale. Say whaaaaaaat? Whatchoo talkin' about, Willis...?

In other words, they've got to fight and kill each other using any means at their disposal until only one of the forty students is left alive. This lucky winner will be, erm, the winner, haha. Anyone who refuses to participate will be 'exploded' by means of the collars that have been attached to everyone's necks.

Well, you can imagine that the students are naturally flabbergasted by this unusual turn of events, but as they have no choice, they grab their kitbags and the weapons they've been allotted by their teacher and they scarper to the farthest reaches of the island, ready to get stuck in. Let the games begin...

The violence is shocking and the body count immediately starts to climb as the kids realise that their teacher ain't joking. For Chrissakes, he's killed two of 'em himself just to show them he means business...! Yes, it's disturbing beyond belief to see teens murdering other teens in gruesome ways. No, there's no 'but,' haha. It's just disturbing beyond belief to see kids maiming and killing each other horribly.

I guess it's kind of understandable that BATTLE ROYALE, now considered one of Japan's most famous films, was received with such... erm, shall we say caution and, um, mixed feelings, when it was first released. I don't suppose it would receive such an extreme reaction if it were released today because we're all so used, sadly, to seeing violence of many different kinds all around us.

Now for the special mentions. Takeshi Kitano as the tracksuited, no-prisoners-taking teacher is absolutely superb. He's a man not to be f***ed with, if you'll excuse my French again. I love the casual way he sits on the couch and eats cookies nicked from one of the kids while, all over the island, his students are battling each other for their very lives. He's one cool customer, is this guy...!

Towards the end of the film, we see a different side to Kitano as the crappiness of his home life is revealed. Takeshi Kitano is a talented artist in real life and an original painting of his features in
BATTLE ROYALE. He's also directed such films as HANA-BI, KUKIJIRO and DOLLS and his presence in BATTLE ROYALE elevates the film's status from 'great' to 'brilliant.' Well, in my humble opinion, anyway...!

I loved Chiaki Kuriyama as Takako Chigusu as well. She's not on-screen for very long but while she's there, she really puts manners on the teenage boy who fondly imagines he's gonna bring her down. Yeah, right. Dream on, spotty! I wasn't the only one enamoured of her ballsy performance, either.

Apparently, director Quentin Tarantino was so taken by her moxie that he cast the beautiful actress, singer and model as the villain Gogo Yubari in his famous movie KILL BILL (2003). She's even wearing a yellow tracksuit in BATTLE ROYALE that's eerily reminiscent of Uma Thurman's sexy, canary-coloured jumpsuit in KILL BILL. Chiaki's a little firebrand in BATTLE ROYALE and she's easily my favourite character after the teacher, Kitano.

I loved the slutty and utterly psychotic Mitsuko, too, who apparently in the book uses her sexual wiles to bring about the downfall of some of her male opponents. Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about...! In fact, I loved the way that the girls in general are still constantly thinking about guys and trying to hook up with them even in the middle of a vicious battle to the death. Women, huh...? No matter what age they are or what country they come from, they're the exact same the world over. Priorities first, right, girls? Nail your man first and the rest will slot neatly into place...!

Other characters of note include the lead boy and girl, Shuya and Noriko, and the two wild cards, Shogo Kawada and the Asian Sid Vicious (trust me!), Kazuo Kiriyama. There's some terrific classical music pieces on the soundtrack as well which you'll recognise and almost certainly enjoy. And finally, my favourite scene by miles?And finally, my favourite scene by miles? Well, let me put it to you this way. Ever seen a dead man answer his phone? Well, I have...!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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