you remember when The Hunger Games was
in Japanese? At that time, it was a
manga and film franchise called Battle
Royale and it is still way cooler that way.
Though Tora! Tora! Tora! co-director
Kinji Fukasaku’s notoriously violent adaptation was released in 2000 (eight
years prior to the publication of a certain YA potboiler), it never had a
proper American theatrical release, until now.
Middle School Class 3-B will go for the dystopian jugular again when Fukasaku’s
Battle Royale (trailer here) opens this Friday at the IFC Center.
protest of their limited future prospects, eighty-thousand Japanese students
boycotted classes. In retribution, the
Battle Royale Act (BR) was passed. Unfortunately,
Class 3-B was not paying attention.
During their graduation trip, Noriko Nakagawa and Shuya Nanahara (whose
names evidently translate into English as Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark)
are more concerned with the halting stirrings of their long pined for
romance. However, their former teacher
Kitano has different plans for the class.
up from a dose of knock-out gas, Class 3-B discovers themselves on a remote
island with tracking collars affixed to their necks. Kitano, who appears to have some sort of
X-Filish super-governmental authority, explains they will all explode in three
days if they do not play the there-can-be-only-one game. Each student is randomly allotted a different
weapon and turned loose in the woods.
Further complicating matters, two “transfer students” are also in on the
game: the sadistic Kazuo Kiriyama and past champion Shogo Kawada, who has his
own mysterious reasons for returning. Nanahara
vows to protect Nakagawa, but given the nature of the BR, it is not clear
whether he ultimately can.
it is a bit mystifying how the BR would act as an instrument of social control
rather than stoking widespread unrest, but no matter. More than most subsequent films it
influenced, Battle really takes an
uncomfortably hard look at human nature.
As a result of the school’s typically arbitrary social structure,
resentful outsiders like Mitsuko Souma (played with unusual nuance by j-pop
vocalist Kou Shibasaki in a star-making turn) readily embrace the game. Yet far more refuse to play, either
committing suicide in pairs or searching for a long shot escape option. Despite its obvious existential angst, the
film adaptation of Battle (penned by
Fukasaku’s son Kenta) is never nihilistic, which is quite the trick to pull
Hunger Games defenders should
ask themselves who is more hardcore, Donald Sutherland as the evil President
Snow or “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as his stone cold namesake. Before giving a kneejerk answer, check out the
latter’s latest masterful Yakuza comic-tragedy, Outrage. In a way, Fujasaku
employs Kitano’s well established deceptively placid persona as a bit of
shorthand, but the action star definitely delivers the ruthless goods for his
legions of international fans. Battle is also further distinguished by
the running body count it maintains for the benefit of players and viewers
recap, Battle is more violent and
sociological trenchant than its imitators, featuring cult-film all-stars, like
Kitano and Chiaki Kuriyama (best known as Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill, vol. 1). Recommended
for all fans of violent dystopian speculative fiction, it begins its premiere
American theatrical run this Friday (5/25) at the IFC Center, where it should
find a large and appreciative audience to judge by the unexpected success of Ôbayashi’s
truly insane House found there.
Labels: Battle Royale, Japanese Cinema, Kinji Fukasaku, Takeshi Kitano