The death game subgenre has been one that has been gaining a full head of steam in recent times. Look no further than the very much-hyped, worldwide phenomenon Netflix series “Squid Game” and you’ll come to realize just how popular these gruesome, hack-and-slash popcorn thrillers just are. Rumoured also to have inspired the box office megahit franchise The Hunger Games, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (2000) was definitely ahead of its time as the progenitor of this kind of film.
Battle Royale introduces over fifty characters in only 109 minutes. The original book, which was just released a few months ago prior, was unknown outside of Japan. Because of the cast’s age, they were all newcomers to the movie industry, and being an all-Japanese cast was virtually unknown outside of Japan. But how did Battle Royale becomes such a phenomenon that we still see resonating and influencing our world today?
Why Are We So Obsessed With Survival?
Even in video games, this winner-take-all, free-for-all, one versus one hundred formats has run rampant over the past year. Among the most popular content being viewed right now on Youtube and Twitch are streamers playing Fortnite, Warzone, and the extremely popular APEX Legends. These video games’ premises are almost an exact carbon copy of Battle Royale: You are thrown onto a deserted island with weapons and rations, with danger zones that force competitors to bump into one another, and you must be the last person alive to survive and win the game. Before we head into the movie, we must ask ourselves, “Why are we so obsessed with death games?”
A Break from the Anxieties of Modern Life
Is it that we are so obsessed with seeing a society where all rules are thrown out the window, with humans stripped down to rely on their most primitive instincts to survive? This can be so, as perhaps humanity has hit a point where it’s had enough of a society where it is expected to behave in such ways that please everyone, to act in ways that prioritize social good. Do those that enjoy this form of entertainment like self-inserting themselves as the protagonists, the possible winners if thrust into a similar situation?
It wouldn’t be beyond us, as in times like these, we all need an escape from our mundane 9-5 jobs, the anxieties of the modern world around us, and be winners for once. Or who knows, maybe we’re just simply entertained seeing decapitated heads holding cooked grenades, human bodies being impaled by katanas and sickles, exploding limbs, and bullets being fired excessively at others. Regardless of the reason, Battle Royale is just a bloody good time to kick back, relax, and enjoy some brewskis. (Although it is not for the faint-hearted!).
The World of Battle Royale
Battle Royale begins with a short overview of the story’s backdrop. In this recession-stricken society, millions of people are unemployed, hundreds of thousands of students dropped out, and crimes committed by young adults are escalating at an alarming rate. The government enacts the BR Act, a new law developed to help control juvenile behaviour among these teenagers. With fear from the adults starting to take over.
In the BR Act, a random school class is to be chosen each year to participate in a survival game where all the students are placed on an unknown island to fight for their lives against one another. With a time limit of three days, students are forced to kill one another to be the last person standing, only one would survive and return to society.
In the BR world, it’s not mentioned how classes are selected, but it is implied that Class B was picked when one of its pupils, Nobu, stabbed his teacher Kitano (played by the Japanese cultural icon Takeshi Kitano). And it just so happens that Kitano is one of the possible Battle Royale programme heads, which may have affected the selection process. In any case, the purpose of the BR Act was to perhaps deter young individuals from committing crimes, and Kitano describes not being able to discipline kids before the law’s introduction. Choosing this class would send a message to society that such things should not be done to adults, or they would be forced to participate.
Among the Class B students who were drugged and dragged into the unknown island are our protagonists, Shuya, and his close friends Noriko, and the aforementioned Nobu. Kitano, tired up with Nobu’s disruptive behaviour and says “There’s no helping you, is there?” resolves to make an example of Nobu and his lack of discipline by setting his collar to explode.
Following Nobu’s death, students are warned that removing their collars, which monitor their movements and conversations, will cause them to explode. Once all the rules of the game are explained, the students were sent out one by one into the 10km diameter island to survive in any way they can, with some groups of friends creating alliances with one another.
More than Lord of the Flies
For all its similarities to William Golding’s famous book Lord of the Flies, director Fukasaku avoids the urge to replicate Golding’s legendary masterpiece. A unique motif that Fukasaku (and author Takami) beautifully explores is the character relationships of the students before being thrown onto the island.
As the movie explores the weight of each character’s connection, the years of history they shared as they grew up together, we feel the weight of each kills all that much more. Of course, the sad fact that unfolds is that when your lives are at stake, your primal instincts take over, and this happens with a handful of students, although they are in the minority.
The Fate of Class B
It is almost impossible to imagine any scenario where you must kill your classmates and even your closest friends to protect your life, but Battle Royale shows just how these teenagers can react given the circumstances.
Friends can become enemies, classroom crushes kill those they have yet to confess their feelings to, and even groups of best friends turn on each other. In one of the film’s best moments, a group of female students holed up in a lighthouse turn on one another after an accidental poisoning feeds their innermost fears and paranoia.
Does Anyone Survive? Spoilers below!
Our leads, Shuya and Noriko, thankfully, survive Battle Royale with the help of Kawada, a returning Battle Royale participant who won and survived one of the previous rounds. Kawada’s knowledge in medical first aid and battle tactics prove crucial to their survival. Kawada seeks vengeance for his girlfriend, whom he had to murder to win the previous Battle Royale.
After duping Kitano and the rest of the military into killing the couple and winning, Kawada enters the headquarters, followed by Shuya and Noriko, who murder Kitano in the name of “self-defense.” Once back in the real world, the Shuya & Noriko live a life of running and hiding after being accused of murdering Kitano, with Kawada regrettably not making it back due to injuries incurred during the game.
Overall, Battle Royale is quite the dark and gruesome slasher experience. If you can take a lot of gore, violence, and murder, this movie is perfect for you. From start to finish, you’ll be on the edge of your seat, astonished at all the unbelievable action that the movie will present to you. If the thought of seeing teenagers holding guns, knives, grenades, bows, and bombs fighting each other to the death makes you salivate, even better!