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00671 - BATTLE ROYALE

MovieHype00671 - BATTLE ROYALE

A scrum of press, pushing with cameras and microphones, beyond herd mentality; past group-think; this is hive-mind, Many acting as one, no one quite aware of why they are here, just desperate for the scoop, the story, the lead.

A 9th grade girl emerges, blood streaming from her face, teddy bear in her hand, a vicious smile on her face.

One of the reporters calls out:

“This year Zentsuji Middle School number 4's Class E was chosen from among 43.000 Ninth grade classes. This year's game, said to be more blistering than the last... Oh look, there! There she is! The winner's a girl! Surviving a fierce battle that raged 2 days, 7 hours and 43 minutes... the winner is a girl! Look, she's smiling! Smiling! The girl definitely just smiled!”

Thus is the beginning of BATTLE ROYALE, a very controversial film that came out in Japan. So controversial was the movie that it never got American distribution, despite being enormously popular in Japan. This is a movie so controversial that you just know every kid in America would want to see it.

But everyone was scared. Here’s why:

In future Japan, economic depression has left life in tatters. Kids are disrespectful, dangerous, impossible to control. The solution? Random classes of middle schoolers are kidnapped while supposedly on a field trip, gassed to wake up on the island.

They wake up with collars around their necks. The collars cannot be removed. Try it and your head will explode. They can’t leave the island. Try it and a radio frequency will go off, and your head will explode.

Each kid is given a back-pack, with food, a map, and a weapon. The weapons are random, everything from a knife, a gun, a GPS tracking system, and a lid for a giant pot. (I’m not sure who could use this as a weapon. Maybe there was an Iron Chef version.)

At the end of the weekend whomever is left standing, still alive, is the winner. That child gets to go home. This is assuming he or she is the only one left. More than one kid left? They all die. Any rule gets broken? The collar or the Army will take care of it.

Welcome to Battle Royale.

You can understand why American companies are so leery about putting their name on this. You can just feel politicians drooling like Homer Simpson at the opportunity to tee off on such an obvious target.

Yet, the moment I was done with BATTLE ROYALE I predicted they would remake it for American audiences.

I say this sincerely: we’re not that far from this now. Reality TV might be a fa├žade, but it continues inexorably (especially in other countries) toward that edge. Can you not see some Asian country actually doing this?

For that matter, if for some reason they put it on TV (it would have to be FOX), you can’t seriously tell me you wouldn’t watch it. You might be appalled. You might write your congressman. But you’d be there.

As to the actual movie, I of course loved it, although I confess BATTLE ROYALE might have been a better book and idea for a movie than it was an actual movie. The cast is one problem; obviously amateur kids without much acting ability (this isn’t even mentioning the cultural wall most of us would have, missing nuance). The production values are pretty shabby as well; but with many foreign or smaller films you learn to let that go (they do the best with what they have), and just judge the movie.

And BATTLE ROYALE is eminently fascinating.

The whole concept of kids talking back and generally being disrespectful. Sounds like a lot of adults we know in this land, ne? The shock these kids go through (a couple of them are killed in the introduction, so the point will sink in) is compelling, as is their terror when handed a backpack and told to go kill. (True to government nature, two “ringers” are brought into the class, kids who actually want to be there!)

Our hero—such as he is—is in love with a girl. Sadly for him, the girl is with his best friend. More sadly for her, the boyfriend is killed before the whole thing even starts. (Come to think of it, I guess that’s sadder for him.) Our hero makes a promise to a dying friend to protect the girl, the girl he’s always loved.

It sounds silly, but you know how these things work in middle school. Is there any emotion more desperate, more immediate than unrequited seventh grade love? (On a side note, that would so make a fantastic band name.)

There are other love stories too, but of course, in typical Middle fashion…..

Niida: I'm in love with you, for real, from before.

Chigusa: Wow, great. Wash your face and try again, if you survive.

Niida: Wait, you're a virgin, right?

Chigusa: Piss... me... off. God, did I just hear this idiot right?

There are other fascinating subplots. One group of “nerds” decides to hack into the government facilities and fight back. One girl who has always been picked on in school decides it’s time to start stabbing people with a vengeance. (It was beyond disturbing for so many reasons to watch a fourteen year old girl stab people. Please God tell me I wasn’t the only one.)

I think my favorite plot was a group of popular girls who set up in an old lighthouse, cooking, cleaning, tending to wounds. (I guess women nest no matter what culture they are in, and no matter that impending death is about to arrive. If that doesn’t explain women, nothing does.)

The girls seem to think it all a game—one they are doing pretty well at. All is peachy keen until one of their friends—a boy—shows up. Within minutes every one of the girls is dead. (And if that don’t explain women…well, you get the point.)

I’m sure most reviewers mention LORD OF THE FLIES, but that’s not really what the movie is about. If it were just kids killing kids it’d be boring. Instead we get great satire, and a riveting look at what makes kids tick.

Someone once said, “Kids can be so cruel.” (We can? Thanks, mom!) Watching BATTLE ROYALE, I expected to see that message driven home. Faced with a dire situation, friends would turn on friends, the bloodlust would emerge.

Don’t get me wrong, that happens. But the real cruelty of BATTLE ROYALE is the adults. I think the movie is saying that whatever kids are, adults made them be that way. In every way, shape and form, whatever kids are, adults made them that way.

So I guess kids can be so cruel.

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