June 23rd, 2014

BATTLE ROYALE (2000) *** ½

I’ve been watching a lot of director Kinji Fukasaku’s work lately. I wanted to save Battle Royale for last because I have heard for years it was pretty amazing. And the flick certainly lived up to its reputation. I’ve seen enough of Fukasku’s films to feel comfortable saying that this is his masterpiece.

In the near future, Japan passes the “BR Act” to help control the population and weed out a lot of unsavory teenage brats. One classroom a year is selected and the students get dumped onto a deserted island where they are handed weapons at random and are forced to kill each other off in assorted violent ways. Some kids make alliances and try to stick together while others gleefully run rampant and mow down their classmates with machine guns.

Battle Royale hits you in the gut from frame one and never looks back. It’s a devastating, absorbing, and surprising motion picture. Not many people could make a film about kids killing each other “fun”, but Fukasaku certainly pulls it off.

And part of the fun comes from seeing how the students react and adapt to the surreal situation. Some kids you wouldn’t expect to be killers handle themselves quite well (under the circumstances at least), while others pussy out pretty quickly. Fukasaku also gets to show his dark sense of humor many times throughout. (I loved the dejected look on our hero’s face when he learns his weapon is nothing more than a lid to a pot.) Fukasaku also delivers in the gore department as many, many people die in spectacularly violent ways.

While Battle Royale has some rather amazing passages, it feels a bit too bloated for its own good. The overall repetitive nature of the premise makes things drag in spots, and some judicious editing would’ve tightened up the third act considerably (especially if you watched the director’s cut, like I did). These flaws probably won’t matter much upon frequent viewings and they are minor in the overall scheme of things. I mean I already want to watch it again and I’m pretty much kicking myself for waiting so long to watch it in the first place.