Batoru rowaiaru (2000)
(Release Date: December 16, 2000)
(US Premiere Date: March 21, 2001 [Cleveland International Film Festival])

Now that's what I call SURVIVOR!Now that's what I call SURVIVOR!Now that's what I call SURVIVOR!Now that's what I call SURVIVOR!

A sick and compelling experiment in social satire.

Kisu mai asu!
J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

In Japan irony, satire and social commentary can take on a much different shape than what we expect in the United States, or, commonly, even in Europe. Japanese films are not unfamiliar with ultra-violence, often for the sake of ultra-violence... however, it's pretty common to find a deeper meaning hidden on the floor of the ocean of blood. Koushun Takami's Batoru rowaiaru novel(s) push that proverbial envelope to the point of stuffing it into a crack in the wall. The adaptation thereof, directed by Kinji Fukasaku and written by Kenta Fukasaku, is heavier than a lead balloon (and almost as melodious). If anything, Batoru rowaiaru, or Battle Royale, kicks the red wash up a few notches, leaving the audience disgusted, shocked, disturbed, questioning, and still somehow compelled and rewarded.

Let's take the plot of Battle Royale. Set in the future (so very "not-so-distant" that you could touch it with a ruler the size of Londo Molari's hair) where society has begun to crumble and even the very best of the young people are acting like a bunch of knife wielding hitlers who just finished up a marathon of the CBS Sitcom Yes Dear... now that is violence-inducing. Clearly someone in the Japanese government had read Steve King's The Long Walk because a light-bulb the size of the Met Life Blimp went off over some jackasses head and a plan sicker than the cancellation of Nowhereman was kicked into motion like the Met Life Blimp.

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Ah, yes... The Class Photo... who's bald, who's fat, who's DEAD?

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The idea? Take a lottery-chosen class of Ninth Graders on a field trip to a seemingly deserted island from which only one of them can come back. And that one, only if every single classmate is dead already. The reward for the winner is... well, more wealth than you can imagine, even if you can imagine quite a bit.

Brutal? Yes! Sick? Absolutely! A Bad Movie? No! Just what the film makers intended for us to learn (unless it's "everybody sucks") doesn't come immediately across. But for a film that essentially features a bunch of high school kids shooting, eviscerating, blowing up and decapitating their best friends, Battle Royale is a surprisingly well-done and brilliant piece of art. Oh, it can be hard as hell to watch now and again, but I'll be damned if I didn't want to watch the whole damned thing more than once.

Kitano "Beat" Takeshi plays the former nice-guy teacher Mr. Kitano. Kitano tells the kids what they're in for and shows them a cute little training film that makes the game show Banzai look like Jeopardy! Oh, and have I mentioned that anyone who so much as whispers during the training gets killed prematurely?

It breaks down like this: every student is given an electronic collar that monitors the life signs of each player, and explodes if anyone leaves the island; the island is divided into grids, each section stands to be declared forbidden at any interval announced by Kitano over the loudspeakers (which also lists the deceased); each student is armed with weapons of variable affect and quality; the game isn't over until only one kid is left.

Some of the kids immediately embrace the carnage, others reluctantly join in for self-preservation, others gather together into smaller groups that war with each other, still others seduce allies in, only to kill them in short order, and still others kill themselves in refusal to participate in the violence. The problems arise even in the groups of trusted souls as a greedy suspicion grasps them all. Those that don't succumb to this violent infidelity, surely risk falling victim to their external classmates' hunts.

Nanahara Shuya (Fujiwara Tatsuya) and his girlfriend Nakagawa Noriko (Maeda Aki) are stunned to find themselves in this nihilistic experiment and cling only to each other throughout this battle. However, even their closest friends can't truly be categorized as they span the island, looking for safety. Hiding and waiting isn't an option, nor is rest in any real way, because each zone could become forbidden at any moment.

Complicating matters is the fact that there are two "Transfer Students" who have joined the fray. The suggestion is that one has been impressed into the game, and one has volunteered just to legally kill kids. One is Ando Masanobu's Kiriyama Kazuo, the shaggy-haired prep, whose one-man swath through the uniformed kiddos results in better weapon after better weapon. The other is Yamamoto Taro's Kawada Shougo who tentatively befriends Shuya and Noriko, and just might hold the secret of the island and to the affects war games like this can have on the heart. But then, nothing is what it seems and the most valuable weapon in this game is confidence.

Other stand out performances include Shibasaki Kou's beautiful prom-queen Souma Mitsuk, who far too easily taps into her animal instincts and becomes as cold blooded in her violence than she was in her teasing in school. Then there's the athletic Chigusa Takako (Chiaki Kuriyama, who won her role as GoGo in Kill Bill because of her performance here). She's as tough as nails even unarmed... Armed, she's Godzilla! Of particular note is Ishikawa Eri (who plays Utsumi Yukie)... she's incredibly hot, which I find to be of particular note.

Who lives? Who dies? Where the film is going is a surprise to say the very, very least, and it's a safe bet that you're not in for a predictable ending. However, it still leaves the audience wondering what may have been the point of all this. It's satire, to be sure, and it's remarkably well done as a movie... but does the movie's aplomb match with the satirical excellence that Fukasaku intended? There is a lot of gray area that surrounds this reliance on the bombastic and the over-the-top, which keeps a lot of the back story in question. Further, while the very amplified nature of this film allows for some incredibly satisfying moments of comeuppance and splatter-oriented comedy, other times there is a feeling of silliness surrounding the occasional part that just doesn't feel fully grown.

Morality aside, this is a superb film that misses perfection just barely. The varied subplots and theme-enhancing subtext will please the adult in you, while the violence, gore and horror is sure to hit home for the kid in you! It's like the frosted mini-wheats of Japanese Film. Four Stars out of Five for Battle Royale, that steam-roller of a fierce fun flick that will both disturb and excite you. Now, if only the hotties could have survived, then the sequel could have been different. Picture an island of hot Japanese women discovered by an internet film critic looking to write a new film... ah... I'd better ask my wife first. Actually, that'd be EVEN HOTTER! See you in the next reel!

There are Islands of more reviews for you to experience...
There's Long Island, Kong Island, Amity Island, Skull Island, Survivor Island, Dharma Island, Island of the Living Dead, Island of the Flesh Eaters, the list goes on and on...
Uh, just click here and I'll shut up!

Batoru rowaiaru (2000) reviewed by J.C. Mašek III who is solely responsible for his reviews, and for... for... for... for... I'm so shaken I can't think of any third person statements that I'm also responsible for right now. Hell and DAMN!
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