Friday, December 10, 2010

Batoru rowaiaru (2000)



It is more a case of limited free time for movies, and a strong commitment to the discipline of writing about culture and artistic expression than the actual merits of Battle Royal that prompt this review. That being said, there is a lot being said about this film even ten years after it was made. Tarantino has sited it as his favorite film of the past 20 years. There is talk of a Hollywood remake, even though the film never managed to get an official release in the US to begin with. Topically, it has received more attention recently with the publication of the similarly themed Hunger Games Trilogy.

In this film, set in an alternate reality Japan, the government has instituted a “Millennial Education Reform Act” in which (apparently) one class is selected each year and forced to participate in a Battle Royale. The class is abducted, sent to an island and equipped with tracking collars. They are forced to kill each other until only one student survives. The collars are also equipped to kill them if they try to escape, or if more than one is alive at the end of three days.

As the film is about a bunch of middle school students killing each other, it was understandably controversial. By today’s standards—even just ten years later—the film is surprisingly tame. Its production values give it more of a TV movie feel, but that is the case in a lot of Japanese films these days. The controversy is more in the subject matter and how it is handled. Many students quickly choose to commit suicide rather than kill or be killed. Others attempt to carry on surviving without killing, but with the circumstances being what they are, end up fighting out of fear when it appears that they are being betrayed.

The meaning behind this story, if such a message can be deemed meaningful, is very pessimistic and empty. It is a picture of what life amounts to for many people in the world today. Life without hope and purpose is little more than a game in which there are no winners and everyone dies. The heroes of this story survive, but only to go on the run as they refuse to kill, but they will be hunted down for the rest of their lives.

All in all, this film is not as bad as some people make it out to be, but it is also certainly not as meaningful as others want to believe it is. So if you are after thoughtful art, skip it. If you want it for the controversy you will be disappointed as well.

Warning: The Trailer for this film that is available online has some shocking violence in it, and would probably be a Red Band Trailer under normal circumstances even though it is not labeled as such.

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