The scene where the girl on the television screen names each kid, one by one. It's chilling and totally brilliant. Most of them are terrified of what awaits them on the outside. A couple of young men seem to be there for different reasons, a look of determination on the face of one and the other is calm. Too calm. Everyone in that room has just learned that the only way they will live beyond the next 72 hours is by being the last one alive when the clock runs out. Surreal. This must be a nightmare.
Why would they do this? A classroom of adolescents chosen randomly for such a fate. It's too cruel to even comprehend, yet in this Japanese dystopian setting it is an idea concocted by the government to maintain order and keep the youth in line. The irony. Maintaining order through brutal chaos. The Battle Royale Millennium Act. Once a year the participants are chosen but the unlucky group won't realize what is happening until it is too late. One minute they are on a field trip, a bus full of 9th graders taking pictures and having fun. Suddenly they wake up with a collar around their neck. Let the games begin.
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, Battle Royale is a gloriously harsh display of violence, a cacophony of screams and bullets that on a simplistic level serves as brutal entertainment but don't be fooled: this isn't a story centered only on blood spills and cheap thrills. Obviously the main question on display during Battle Royale is the one being addressed fictionally by the Japanese government: What the hell is wrong with the culture of youth today? Personally, I think the better question is what the hell is wrong with the people raising them?
A child grows up reveling in the image of those who show them the world. Those who are supposed to love them and only want the best for them. I live down the street from a kid who is, frankly, a little asshole and the easy response to such behavior is to scold the child, but when she steps in front of a mirror I see her parents looking back. I see the people who brought a miraculous life into the world only to show it that being rude and violent is an acceptable normality.
So how does the Japanese government teach the kids to behave and stop the violence? By forcing them to misbehave and resort to violence. It is this counter-intuitive hypocrisy that fuels the picture, along with the excellent way frenetic action and surprisingly nuanced performances from the cast of young people are weaved together to form a story that somehow feels both sadistic and heartfelt. These kids are friends and some of them are just getting a chance to grasp the meaning of the word love when all of it is ripped from their arms in an instant. They'll never have the chance to grow up and learn how to be better people on their own.
Painfully vicious and darkly comedic, Battle Royale is an incredibly smooth experience that clocks in at under two hours and yet it finds a way to build multiple characters amidst the blood, giving us a reason to actually give a shit when they take their last breathe. It's not a film for everyone, but those who can appreciate a blend of violence, mayhem and social subtext will absolutely love the ride.
When Kiriyama comes up that fiery hill, machine gun in hand and ominous music playing as he approaches? I can't stop smiling no matter how many times I see it.