Notable Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda
Review: Took long enough for Kinji Fukasaku’s hauntingly engrossing “fight to the death” picture to be freely distributed in the US. Of course, I did whatever I could years ago to get my hands on a copy of Battle Royale, but it’s time all those Hunger Games groupies bow down to a superior pint-sized royal rumble flick. You think Katniss and Peeta had it rough? How about putting an explosive time limit on The Hunger Games, making all the competitors school room friends, ramping up weaponry, and having the games represent an all too horrifically sensible way to compensate for overpopulation?
Battle Royale is the story of a 9th grade class which is selected to participate in a yearly death match, crowning a winner and lone survivor. Each student is given a random bag containing weaponry and rations, enough to cover their three-day time limit. If no winner is crowned by the deadline, specially designed collars placed around each child’s neck explode and all remaining contestants are eliminated. Some students embrace the sick nature of Battle Royale while others try to escape the island in peace, but insane showrunner Kitano-sensei (Kitano) is there to make sure all rules are followed. In other words, sit back and watch while young teens murder one another! No, OK, Battle Royale isn’t as depraved and senseless as that comment makes it out to be, yet a dark envisioning of a future where humanity has lost touch with all reality, pitting adults versus children. But enough with the Hunger Games/Battle Royale comparisons at this point. Indie film hipsters have been ranting and raving how Suzanne Collins’ novel and in turn Gary Ross’ film were a blatant rip off of Fukasaku’s Japanese film, wussing it out for a broader audience. Well allow me to retort. How many spy thrillers or gangster stories mirror the same plots, just with the details altered? Does every single film in history have it’s very own original plot? I still loved The Hunger Games, full of vibrant creations and a unique style setting it aside from Battle Royale, yet my tastes lay more with the uber realistic action focused piece sporting much more gritty violence from the young warriors (Battle Royale). That doesn’t mean I have to bash Hunger Games for having a similar plot. Collins’ doesn’t claim her story is the first of its kind either. The films are separate entities, but getting to watch Battle Royale again did remind me how much more ass Fukasaku’s rendition kicks. Pedal to the metal balls out action is made more vicious knowing just hours ago these kids were seemingly innocent and harmless, and a realistic feel scares even more. Positively reviewing a film like this almost seems sadistic, but it’s hard to argue the masterpiece status of Battle Royale. What should have been another Japanese B-Movie laughfest slaughters the competition, and deserves all the A+ acclaim garnered. Foreign film fans, action buffs, dystopian future lovers, and creative cinema seekers alike need to add Battle Royale into their number 1 Watch Instantly slot this instant. It’s that good. But if the thought of 9th grade children being forced to slay each other makes you squeamish, stay in your happy little world and run far, far away. Battle Royale may be hard to watch, but is surely something special.
Netflix Rating: 5/5