Shock Flicks: Battle Royal – 2000poppascotch
Shock flicks is a new ongoing editorial segment that exists to examine films from the horror genre, both past and present that are not aimed at pleasing a mass audience. The films selected for this editorial will include movies that attempt to be extremely shocking to the viewer and often times creating discomfort at the highest level by including extreme violence/sex/gore and taboo subjects in order to shock the viewer for either relevant artistic purposes or on the other end of the spectrum, just for the hell of it. For the second installment of Shock Flicks, I present to you a cult classic that has had a very trying time making its way to us on this side of the Pacific: Battle Royale (Dir: Kinji Fukasaku - 2000).
Synopsis: For those of you who haven’t ever heard of this flick, I’ll give you this little rundown of what it’s about, and then you can tell me how awesome it sounds (I already know how awesome it is, but hey, I like enthusiasm): So in a near and heavily militarized future, the children in Japan have grown tired of the adults and rebel by completely boycotting school. The response to this was for the government to enact the Millennium Educational Reform Act (Battle Royale Act) which was implemented to stop the teenage rebellion. Was this a new bill to train more teachers? Was it designed to create a new way to educate while entertaining kids? No, it was an act that randomly selected an entire class (40+) students, put them on a deserted island, armed them, and told them that in three days, the last one alive goes home. If there is more than one, they all get their tracking collars detonated and everyone dies. I mean, talk about killing a mouse with a bazooka.
Shock hook: Think of it this way, you have a group of 15 year old kids, which is the perfect age to be shallow, caddy, and evil to one another, but not really adult enough to handle these emotionally draining situations. Then you arm said students, which have all known each other throughout their education, with everything from Uzis to pot lids and have them take out all that latent aggression on one another. Throw in two "transfer" students that are clearly older than the other kids, and have some kind of ulterior motives, and watch the hell unfold as they kill one another.
Shock Value: The shock value is high on this one; for example, think about when you were in high school. The most trivial crap in the world, the kid of pointless stuff that wouldn’t even put a dent in you today was SO important back then. We look back at those moments today and we laugh, but imagine if back then we had machine guns. And we were told that not only is it perfectly acceptable to take these people out, but encouraged to the point that if you don’t kill them, then you’re dead. Children that are participating in violence is always shocking to watch in a film. Children that are taking part in violence both willingly and unwilling (by killing themselves), some of them actually enjoying it, is straight up terrifying.
Cinematic relevance: Based on an acclaimed novel, the movie was one of the highest grossing films in Japan. The producers got so hyped up on the idea that their movies was selling so well in Japan that they failed to see why a country like America was unwilling to pay the exorbitant amount of money that was asked for the international rights after very public displays of violence turned people off to the notion in multiplexes (school shootings). That being said, the film is a well know, although respected film in Japan while on the other side of the pond its gained its own mythos as a B-movie with substance… which it was in no way trying to ever be.
Overall Quality: The film makes obvious allusions to the classic novel Lord of the Flies, but I believe that it actually is more effective thematically. Lord of the Flies, for the three of you actually reading this that may not know is a similar story where a group of boys become stranded on an island and with no parental supervision, devolve into a very tribal and violent society. Yes of course, Battle Royale is in many ways the same, but The Lord of the flies wanted to comment on society by essentially giving the kids a blank slate and seeing what becomes of it. BR on the other hand has the illusion that the kids are able to make their own decisions and own free will, but the adults are pulling the strings. If there has ever been a film that more fully and effectively tries to show the differences in generations that Battle Royale, I’d love to see it.
The film, without any kind of sarcasm is in my opinion, a work of art. I would akin it to something like Salo (which is why it is here, not in a Retro Rewatch article) where as you have many themes and ideas to explore with the piece and you do so using violence as an allegory to it. You want to show that in the culture at that time, children are not respecting adults? Then do it with some guns and knives. It’s taking a road that is so blown out of proportion that people will mistake it for being something ridiculous when it’s actually a satire take the most extreme road possible to reflect that cinematic mirror back on to society and attempting to show us how ridiculous things have become. Battle Royale is a very rare film that will shock, disturb, and frighten you while also making you think.
Staying power: Well, you have senseless ultra-violence, Japanese school girls (in uniform), some actual subtext of generational gap tension and betrayal, and a terrifying and stoic villain pulling the strings behind the scenes. It’s already a cult classic, and it’s going to be around for a long time.
NOTE: I’m always going to be looking for new editions to this column so if you have any films that you think fit into this category along with August Underground’s Mordum, Salo, or Cannibal Holocaust then PM me or drop it in the comments!