I was a bit unhappy with my introduction to last Friday’s movie, BATTLE ROYALE. It’s been one of my favourite movies so far and yet, when Tom handed me the mic, I forgot everything I love about BR and only offered some academic background information on the director Kinji Fukasaku who saw many of his friends die when he was working in a munitions factory as a boy in WWII. So yes, he knew what he was talking about. But that’s not what makes the extremely bloody, fast-paced and entertaining film so curiously tender and quite touching. But then again maybe it actually is.
I don’t know if kids today still have to read the deeply cynical THE LORD OF THE FLIES in school. On the face of it the stories are quite similar, a group of teenagers killing each other off on a deserted island. But looking closely there is a huge difference. While in THE LORD OF THE FLIES humans are inherently evil, in BR it is the outside world, a post-fascist adult society that seems to be about a month in the future if at all, that forces the teenagers to join the killing. Most of them struggle valiantly not to take part in the game. Those who do, do so because they are scared or distrustful or mistaken, making their murders as heartbrakingly random as they are gruesome and enthusiastically staged. The two teenagers who do enjoy taking part are the exceptions, not the norm: Mitsuko was abused as a child (only hinted at in the theatrical cut) and the “exchange student” Kazuo displays all the traits of a pathological psychopath.
So at the same time BR is murdering off its young protagonists with great energy and quite a bit of humor, Takeshi Kitano counting the numbers, the film is also always and totally on their side, telling them, basically: “Run. Run as fast as you can, before the the adult world gets you and turns you into killing machines.” At the age of over 70 at the time of filming director Fukasaku was still well aware that becoming an adult is a soul destroying business and being a teenager a life-and-death situation. Which in my view makes BR eminantly suitable for a school viewing. Fukasaku would agree: when BR was rated age 15 in Japan he urged 14-year olds to storm the cinemas.