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(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
I've been holding off on reviewing this movie for a long time. We do that here if the movie isn't available world wide and this movie is probably the most controversial film of the 21st century. For the record it is not actually banned in the United States, it just never found a distributor, despite being one of the most popular movies on the planet.
While greater movies from Japan (RINGU, THE EYE, DARK WATER) and lesser movies (DARK WATER - American, JU-ON / THE GRUDGE) have been released or remade for American audiences, no one is willing to touch BATTLE ROYALE: SURVIVAL PROGRAM for American release. All pretenders to the throne of hard core Horror in the last seven years may bow before BATTLE ROYALE.
It doesn't have the organs, dismemberment, and lingering brutality of SAW, WOLF'S CREEK, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, HOSTEL, or THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006), but it has every one of those and more beat by sheer energy, story, characters and a breathless pace that slows but never pauses or stops.
BATTLE ROYALE doesn't waste time with self-indulgent bad guys chortling over the pieces of flesh they are torturing off of their victims. It doesn't visually drone on and on over scenes of rubber dismembered body parts. Watch this with a group of friends and count how many times you hear the hushed or whispered "Da-mn!" or "Holy shit!"
BATTLE ROYALE won't be getting an uncut theatrical release or remake in U.S. theaters any time this decade. This is the kind of movie that makes shaky weasels come out of a showing, feeling that they have to loudly proclaim, "It didn't affect ME!"
You may not be able to watch this movie, yet it must be honored.
It is present-day Japan and violent crime among teenagers is out of control. For sheer fun they stab their teachers in the halls and run away laughing. Teachers are not allowed to punish students. Even the least aggressive of the teens cover for their more violent friends and get a good chuckle out of these flyby attacks, smiling or giggling as their teachers collapse to the floor, bleeding, writhing in pain. 800,000 students boycott school. At 15% unemployment, 10 million are out of work. Adults not only fear the youth, they are sick of their own lenient and punitive laws that brought this situation about.
So a new law was passed: BR.
But even with BR in force, there are over 43,000 schools to choose from and only one class at a time can participate on the single island. So underage school children continue to commit violence, unconcerned of the consequences. Yet schools are chosen on the basis of worst first. We get to see what happens to the next to worst class, the very next class.
40 students on a bus, all having a good time as they are transported to their school. There are the usual things, some picking on others; bonding of friends, and young love in the air. All the happiness, depression, and angst of childhood with some suffering more than others. Shuya Nanahara's mother left the family without a goodbye. Just recently, Shuya came home to find his Father dead by suicide, toilet paper wrapped around his head and trailing onto the floor with one phrase: You Can Make It Shuya!
Mitsuko is pretty, yet remains an outcast and the most bullied of the group. She desperately wants to fit in, but her desperation stinks to the rest of her peers.
The students begin to notice that they are passing an awful lot of military vehicles. Then they notice that they are taking a different route.
There is an abrupt change when Shuya wakes up, groggily looks around and sees that everyone else on the bus is asleep - even their new teacher, who seems to get along well with the students, especially the girls. Shuya stands and notices that the bus is still moving, it is night, where the hell are they? He goes forward to find that the bus driver is wearing a gas mask. There is also another person, a woman who wasn't there before. She is wearing a mask as well and puts Shuya back to sleep.
When Shuya and the rest wake again, they are in a class room, but not their classroom. Disoriented, they soon find themselves facing a battalion of armed soldiers who do not hesitate to fire their guns. Then their other teacher, Mr. Kitano (Takeshi Kitano: JOHNNY MNEMONIC), the one who was playfully sliced in the beginning of the film, walks in. Mr. Kitano has a bitter grudge and BR will help him fulfill it.
The students are on an island which is mapped out in danger zones. Those danger zones are important because each child wears an unbreakable electronic collar. The collar is on permanently. If you try to take it off, the collar explodes. But if you are in a danger zone when it is red lit, your collar will also explode. If you try and mass attack the soldiers or Mr. Kitano right now, your collar will explode. Mr. Kitano demonstrates on a student, getting immediate, alert, undivided attention from the rest.
The fact that Mr. Kitano took pleasure in the act, exploding the collar of the boy who once stabbed him, is noted. The students want to see their new teacher. The young man who is so nice - and especially friendly with the girls.
They bring in his body.
The new teacher disagreed with the law of BR, and so was punished. Mr. Kitano isn't interested in reason or mercy: now onto the law - The law of BR.
Mr. Kitano plays a video. The Rules of BR are simple. In three days, only one student will be left alive on the island. Only one student will be allowed to return home. If there is more than one student left by the end of the BR Survival Game, then all of the remaining students will be randomly beheaded by their collars until one is left.
So the students are issued survival bags for the next three days consisting of water and bread, some medical supplies and a game weapon. Some game weapons are "luckier" than others. If you get the large axe? VERY lucky. But it is made abundantly clear, there will only be one survivor.
Can you kill your best friend?
Amazingly the acting here is all first rate. Different personalities from petty to heroic to manipulative to denial to accepting all come into play and nearly every student and their unique perspective is covered.
There are also two transfer students, friends to no one, who are jokers in this deck. One clearly enjoys the hot-blooded thrill of cold-blooded murder. The other chooses to be a mystery.
Throughout the course of the three day period, young love will be tested and endure or break. Friends will become enemies or fight together until the futile end, because in the end, no matter what, only one can survive.
Most memorable is Mr. Kitano (Writer / Director / Producer / Actor 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano: JOHNNY MNEMONIC, FIREWORKS, TOKYO EYES, but is best known to martial art movie audiences world wide as Zatôichi: The Blind Swordsman), a man so driven by revenge and happily obsessed by the law that allows it, that he sacrifices the love of his family to attain it.
There is also Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama: JU-ON, MPD: PSYCHO, KILL BILL Vol 1, YÔKAI WAR, EKUSUTE), another pretty girl of the group who has only one love in her life, but is repeatedly hit on by other boys she can't stand.
Mitsuko (Kou Shibasaki: KAKASHI, PEKING MAN, OBORERU HITO), the outcast of the bunch who would love nothing better than to slaughter her tormentors, as well as the ones who did nothing to stop the rest. BR gives her the perfect opportunity for payback.
Shugo Kawata (Taro Yamamoto: MOON CHILD): The mysterious one of the two transfer students. He seems a bit old to be in a ninth grade class. Why does he think that he can save more people than just himself?
Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara: DESU NÔTO, BATTLE ROYALE 2, DEATH NOTE [all], KAMEN GAKUEN): He is in love with Noriko, and believes he can save them both.
Noriko Nakagawa: (Aki Maeda: GAKKÔ NO KAIDAN 3, GAMERA 3, GODZILLA MOTHRA AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK) loves Shuya and believes they can survive together.
Based on the controversial and banned novel of Koushin Takami, the late Director Kinji Fukasaku (THE GREEN SLIME, VIRUS , MAKAI TENSHO) redeemed himself from a lifetime of bad Horror Thriller movies by making this from a script written by his son, Kenta Fukasaku*.
BATTLE ROYALE is scary, violent, vicious, and redeeming. The characters are real and recognizable, which makes their deaths all the more tragic and horrifying. There are no long drawn out scenes of lingering torture. Do it once and it is startling, do it 20 times a year, every year, for the last five years, and it is the Fred Olen Ray "lesbian shower scene" of cliché-crap Horror. Brutal "Torture Horror" has worn out its welcome and shock value. Now it is so dull and insipid that whenever I see a film maker try it I loudly cough out "HACK!"
BATTLE ROYAL the comic book (or manga) was definitely more brutal, colder, but it was over-the-top in a comic book way that a serious movie could never duplicate.
BATTLE ROYALE the movie suffers from nothing, and is one of the few Horror Thriller action movies worthy of aspiration, setting a bar so high many film makers fear to reach for it.
I think that will be my own new bar, "Well your Horror movie was no BATTLE ROYALE, but it was ... nice."
Five freakin' Shriek Girls all the way!