A long time ago (in film terms), and let’s be honest, seventeen years is a long time ago, Kenta Fukasaku wrote a screenplay based on Koushun Takami’s novel, and the film Battle Royale was born.
The irony that this independent Japanese film indirectly gave birth to the sprawling 2008 monstrosity that was The Hunger Games trilogy is not lost on me.
However, setting corporate greed, together with the need for the US film industry to ‘own’/invent everything, including stories that have actually been developed elsewhere aside, let’s look at the film.
Synopsis: In the near future, Japan institutes a programme to cope with rising youth crime. The solution is to make the youth of Japan toe the line of behaviour, by selecting a random class of 14 and 15 year-old children and packing them off to an island, where they are given weapons and three days to eliminate each other until a sole survivor remains. Look at what could happen to you if you don’t behave, kids.
So that’s totally The Hunger Games, yes?
The saddest thing about this very good film is that the certification, because of the violence depicted onscreen, restricts the viewing audience.
The brutal horror of man’s inhumanity to man is a lesson that should be widely taught, not shunned.
And this film could be a vehicle to convey that lesson.
For three days, 42 children are isolated on a remote island.
Their numbers steadily dwindle as they are killed in sometimes brief scenes that often ring uncomfortably true.
By the time you could have worked out who the children are, and how much you liked them, most of them have died.
And died in a succession of surprising, disturbing, touching, horribly funny or deeply upsetting ways.
It’s impossible to guess which of these neatly-uniformed youngsters is secretly a serial killer, a self-sacrificing hero, a born victim or simply another body count statistic.
Battle Royale is a film that never lets you settle down.
It sidesteps so rapidly between satire and splatter, and it offers the screen moments that will make the most hardened viewer cringe, as well as showing snatches of quiet melancholy that will haunt you for a long time.
And if you’re a hardened cynic, Battle Royale is worth watching because it gives you a real glimpse of what The Hunger Games could have been, if it hadn’t pandered to the massively superficial US audience.