Action | 114 min
This film is a classic. No, a masterpiece. No, a clasterpiece. Japanese director, Kinji Fukasaku, serves up an action laced fight-to-the-death thriller, which is injected straight to your throbbing vena cava for an all-too-rare “This is effing awesome!” moment of moviemaking excitement.
Adapted from Koushun Takami’s novel of the same title, “Battle Royale” takes place in an alternative timeline on a remote, deserted island, mirroring some of the thematic elements of Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” Forty two junior high students (21 males and 21 females) are all fixed with tracking necklaces, basic survival essentials, and one weapon. A fictionalized Republic of Greater East Asia releases the students in a competition rewarding “the last one standing.”
We follow the students as they off each other one-by-one in violent and disturbing ways. All of which were tagged with Fukasaku’s signature death toll title cards. Although the setup seems slightly implausible and tiresome (“Saw VI” anyone?), Fukasaku’s abilities as a visual storyteller make “Battle Royale” feel fresh. Rather than victims, we are given characters with emotions and back-stories that are not forced, but embedded and showcased by a stand-up cast. For example, we delve into the love connection between Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko Nakagawa (Taro Yamamoto). Every ounce of this film is used to its potential. The action is never stale and the amount of generous insight is fresh air to the genre.
In the end, perhaps the most important part of this Fukasaku installment is the scary truth of human nature: our ability to turn on ourselves. When stripped of everything but the instinct to survive, Takami’s characters return to the savage core of human existence and prove that we don’t necessarily need to look for vampires or paranormal activity to see the true fright around us.