Sunday, July 17, 2011

AFFD review: BATTLE ROYALE, She said

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Written by Koushun Takami
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, and Takeshi Kitano
Synopsis: In a future Japan, the government passes the Battle Royale Act, which states that every year a class must battle to the death until there is only one survivor.

What a way to kick off my very first experience at The Asian Film Festival of Dallas than with BATTLE ROYALE.  This bloody, iconic, and almost cult-like film asks the simple question, "Would you be able to kill your best friend?"  In a future Japan, their economy has collapsed, 15% are out of work, and 800,000 students have boycotted school.  So, the government issued the "Battle Royale Act" where one class is picked to be put on a deserted island with limited supplies for each student, and they must battle to the death until there is only one survivor.  Also, there's a time limit, and if time expires, all will die.  An absolutely terrifying ordeal for a 14/15 year olds to handle.  And to make matters even worse, their former teacher is the ringmaster for this battle.

As the battle begins, each student is given ample screen time to establish their character from the absolutely terrified, to the class tramp using all her strengths to win, and students forming alliances to help each other survive. The pace is fast and unrelenting; simple conversations turn deadly without a moments notice.   With each death, we're given a count of how many live bodies there are to go.   The island which our class is dropped onto is filled with trees, cliffs, hidden hideaways, and is completely unrelenting.  It seems to have no end, and there's no way off.  

Even though the premise of the movie is brilliant, I was left wanting to know more about the history of the act, and what events lead up to the eventual passing.  Also, how long are these battles going to happen?  Annually but...until when?  However, we're given such little information that we can either a) project whatever fillers we need from our own psyche to answer our unresolved political questions about the history or b) identify more with the students in the battle and look towards the next day rather than the bigger picture.  They're given little to no explanation as to why they're there, except it's the law and their class was chosen at random.  Once the rules are given and battle ensues, each are given a backpack with a map, compass, water, bread and a weapon, which are everything from a gun to a knife to binoculars.  Just like being the class picked, it's all luck of the draw.  

What's refreshing about BATTLE ROYALE is even though it's a movie about kids, this isn't a movie for kids.  Director Kinji Fukasaku isn't afraid to portray the worst of humanity through children.  In the most extreme situation, these students have many of the same responses as adults would.  Some run and hide while others go looking for a fight.  This isn't a glorified hero story of one overcoming all and saving everyone.  Many die; a lot in horrific ways.  All the characters are portrayed, dare I say it, like real people and not some caricature of an archetype.  

This movie is made for discussion and analysis.  Unfortunately, it isn't for everyone.  Many will see this as too gory and horrified that children are depicted in such barbaric manners.  We see people die in movies all the time, but there's something about watching students, who have been in the same class for years, completely turn on each other that is completely unsettling.  But that's the point; it's suppose to be barbaric and stay with you.  Fukasaku has made a unique and memorable film for any fan of the action genre.  One of my new favorites.    

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