Before Nigel’s feature presentation, I started us off with another “short” – in this case the “Upper-Class Twit of the Year” sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. For your distraction, it’s on YouTube:
It’s a pretty simple idea, really. Five contestants for the Upper-Class Twit of the Year Award battle it out on a soccer pitch, faced with such diverse challenges as: walking a straight line, kicking a peddler, insulting a waiter, slamming a car door to wake the neighbor, and removing a mannequin’s bra from the front. It’s not easy, but all but one advance to the final challenge (the other having accidentally run himself over earlier in the contest) – that of shooting oneself in the head. First place goes to the one who, after some difficulty, shoots himself in the head first. Second place was accidentally dispatched by the third place winner, who eventually gets himself, and fourth place, unable to grasp the concept, clubs himself into unconsciousness with the handle of the gun. Nevertheless, five men went in, and only one emerged. A reasonable lead-in for our feature presentation.
Which, of course, was Battle Royale, the 2000 Japanese violence-fest directed by Kinji Fukasaku. The film is taken from a novel, which wa also converted into a manga, and it was relatively controversial and faced severe ratings restrictions in Japan due to the depicted deaths of a large number of teenagers. The plot is relatively simple – in the near future the Japanese government, facing economic and social problems, has enacted the Battle Royale Act, which assigns one particularly misbehaving class each year to duke it out – to the death – on a remote island.
The film opens by introducing us to last year’s winner. Isn’t she sweet?
Then it proceeds to give us a really quick introduction to this year’s selected class, a group of no-goodniks whose classroom rebellion forced their teacher Kitano’s retirement after the student Nobu stabbed him in the leg. The class is loaded onto a bus on the premise of going on a field trip, and in a way it is a field trip – it’s just that most don’t start with the entire class being gassed. The students come to on a remote, deserted island where the rules of the game are explained to them.
They’re pretty simple really. Everybody gets a splodey-collar, seen below, which can’t be removed and can be detonated at will by the soldiers.
Everybody gets a random weapon (some of which are not weapons – our ultimate protagonists get a pot lid and binoculars – but others are as awesome as submachine guns) and the goal is to be the last survivor on the island. Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that – there have to be at least a few incentives to get the kids to play the game, so the island has been divided into mapped-out zones which will gradually be declared (by radio edict) off-limits – being in an off-limits zone makes your splodey-collar go off. That’ll get the kids to eventually be forced into proximity. And, as the ultimate incentive, if there is more than one survivor once three days have passed, the government will detonate ALL the collars. It’s one winner or none, or so it seems.
And the whole thing is being overseen by…Kitano, their former teacher out for revenge!
Of course, nobody’s actually going to buy the whole process without a demonstration. So Nobu, the leg-stabber, gets the privilege of having his collar detonated first, in front of everybody else. From here, you can see that the film will in fact be bloody – the killings begin nearly as soon as the weapons are distributed. And a lot of killings there need to be.
Sure, a few students refuse to play – there are two couples that commit double-suicide, and our ultimate winners Shuya and Noriko (yes, there are two) are determined not to kill – but for the most part, it’s a slasherfest from there on out. Impressively, the film details the deaths of each of the 40 killed students, almost as if it were deliberately made for a drinking game (detailed on Wikipedia here – but what isn’t?). Because of the amount of time devoted to the story/backstory of a large number of characters, it’s not entirely clear at first who will emerge victorious, but Shuya and Noriko it is. They hook up relatively early with Kawada, one of two former champions who has returned to the ring to fight again – Kawada because he hopes to exact revenge for the death of his girlfriend in his own battle, and the spiky-haired Kiriyama who is pretty much just a bloodthirsty villain, the Nazi-easy bad guy of the film. The island eventually gets down to these four (and it’s needless to describe just how) before Kawada kills Kiriyama, leaving three.
Then, Kawada openly turns on Shuya and Noriko, shooting them (off camera) to win the game. As the government monitored the shots and their collars no longer read life signs, Kitano declares the game over and all the soldiers leave the island while he stays behind. Why? I didn’t really get that. To meet winner Kawada, I guess, but that’s really a bad idea given that he’s bent on revenge.
Or maybe it’s just to gaze more longingly on the painting he has been working on during the field trip, the one which depicts Noriko as the angelic survivor. Except he thinks she’s dead. Thinks, ha-ha! because Kawada disabled their collars (a real deus ex machina, as there was absolutely no explanation that he knew how to do this before the fake shooting). The three of them confront the solo Kitano, ultimately shooting him to death when he attacks them…with a squirt gun. Of course, in a last burst of life the presumably-dead Kitano gets up…to answer the telephone and explain to his family on the line he’s not coming home before falling down dead for good.
Shuya, Noriko and Kawada leave the island on a boat, but Kawada succumbs to the injuries accumulated during the game leaving new couple Shuya and Noriko to make their way as fugitives in Japan.
It’s a creative and entertaining film, if a bit bloody and conceptually silly, but Nigel is right in that it draws you in to its ridiculous premise fairly easily once it gets going and you totally are on board with the idea that, yes, all these kids are going to die. I don’t know, kinda makes you feel a bit of a sadist. For two hours. Unless you’re doing the drinking game, in which case I imagine, you’re not feeling like much of anything by an hour in.