March 19th, 2012
This is one of the most disturbingly graphic films of the past 20 years, but it has an underlying tension that goes far beyond mere blood-spilling. Its controversial release in 2000 garnered a lot of skepticism and concerned parents of culture. Was it too violent? Does the fact that it’s a film about 15- year-olds starring 15-year-olds make it any worse? And, the biggest question, is this film supposed to be some kind of cautionary tale, or does it provide valuable advice to teenagers? These questions seem almost charming now; since 2000 we’ve seen Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), which featured Battle Royale’s Chiaki Kuriyama as Gogo, and read The Hunger Games. Now, let’s get down to what the film’s about.
“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At 15 percent unemployment, 10 million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Education Reform Act, AKA the BR Act…” reads the text that opens the film. It’s a tough era in Japan and they’ve decided to both teach a lesson to the youth and, perhaps, curb the population’s growing uselessness. And for these reasons they’ve decided to subject a classroom’s worth of teenagers, every year, to a killing contest on a deserted island. Not only will there be just one survivor, but there are detonation devices placed around their necks. Closely monitored and observed by a callous military contingent, they will designate “Death Zones” that are announced through a PA system. Over the course of the battle, that same PA system will also announce who’s died and, by process of elimination, who hasn’t. Oh, and one more thing, they get random weapons of widely-varying deadliness. This is supposed to even the playing field – you might get a shotgun or a blade, but you also might get a flashlight, binoculars or a plastic bag. Naturally, when and if you kill someone, you’ll be snatching that deadly sickle before you’re on your way. Sounds a bit like The Hunger Games, doesn’t it? Well, they’re both books, and they both owe a debt of gratitude to The Lord of the Flies. But with the The Hunger Games coming to theaters soon, a consideration of the differences between the two films (not the books) yields some interesting aspects of both.
There’s something about Battle Royale that feels more emotionally pungent. And that’s got to be because these players of the game grew up together, they’ve had crushes and rivalries on each other for ages, and some of them honestly believe themselves to be in love with participants they are trying to outlast. It makes for some truly gut-wrenching drama. You could imagine reactions like: “YOU killed ME?!” or “I’ve always hated you!” or “I can’t believe I’m murdering my best friend.” But with The Games, they don’t know each other much. They know each others’ weaknesses and strengths, but they haven’t grown up together. Plus, The Games is a televised event – mad people are watching, and so the participants end up trying to woo sponsors and, therefore, do what could be considered a fair amount of acting. Oh, wait, that kind of sounds like all of reality television. Romance is not foreign to either film, and, in fact, plays a crucial part in both. Love is a more powerful force than maniacal malice, it could be said, is a theme pulsing through both stories.
Can you feel the love even as you’re dripping in blood? You should probably go to the Trocadero tonight to see what it’s all about. Doors are at 6:30pm, show’s at 8pm, it’s 21 and up and if you arrive before 7pm you get a free beer.