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Battle Royale  

Country: Japan
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Actor: Takeshi Kitano

There are not many films nowadays that can provoke much reaction from a jaded audience, hardened by sensory overload exposure. It seems nowadays that the only emotion that's ever excercised these days is boredom, or contempt.

So this is one of the reasons why I think Battle Royale is an amazing film. I felt a range of emotions which probably shouldn't be mixed together, like the ingredients that make up TNT. Based on a manga which itself was based upon a book, this film is set in the near future, where society is on the brink of collapse due to economic disaster. This dystopia is covered by a thin veneer of civility, stretched to near-invisibility by the resultant pressures and. The rate of juvenile delinquency rises as the families break down. In a desperate knee-jerk reaction, the government passed the "Battle Royale" Act, where each year, a class of these little shits are kidnapped and transported to a deserted island, and forced to kill each other with whatever means possible. The lone survivor will be allowed safe passage off the island and supposedly back into a 'normal' life.

This film is shocking. It is not so much the violence - although there is plenty of that, depicted in all its blood-spurting, screaming entirety - but the way it mind-screws with you. And don't think it's in the same mould as the teen slasher movies either - the characters and emotions depicted here makes it difficult for a person to easily dismiss the film, and therefore you're left with no mental insulation or protection from what's been splattered across the screen. The actors here genuinely look like 13 or 15 year olds, conveying with such horrible ease that quality of innocence and naivety, necessary to make this film work. You are constantly being disarmed every time you try to deal with and shield yourself from the implications of the ideas in this film. Yet it is also a comedy, very black to be sure - coming from the cheesiness and banality of some of the scenes. For example, a tender moment between a boy a girl gets mowed down in a hail of bullets by a psychotic student. A group of close friends set up domestic bliss together, joking and carrying on like normal teenagers - before it all drowns in a bloody Pulp Fiction-like showdown. You've got to laugh, but obviously you feel uncomfortable for doing so. This alternation between black comedy and uber-violence twists you like a broken back. The director knows his craft well like a torturer knows his instruments.

Yet I think there's more to this film than it being just a more deadly version of a South Park cartoon. Beneath all the violence depicted, there are moments when some normal human behaviour is depicted, their presence giving more weight to the impact of this film. There are also some Lord of the Flies elements here, where long-held tensions between various cliques finally found themselves freedom of expression by way of a crossbow or a semi-automatic machine gun. Most of the kids aren't killers, but when push comes to shove, they can do it and do it with alarming ease and naturalism. When one of them asks the teacher why they were forced to do this, the adults curtly tells them that they had no one to blame but themselves. The film could be an extreme realisation of some of adult's darkest fantasies, coming from a fear and resentment of teenagers. How many times have you heard an adult wishing that the skateboarding teenager who nearly ran him down on the sidewalk would get some kind of appropriately dire and preferably disfiguring punishment?

I have friends who, on hearing about this film, thought it was absolutely deplorable. Yet some of these are the same people who rated Requiem for a Dream highly, because it had the effect of a mental punch to the solar plexus. It is for the same reason why I rate this film highly - it shakes you out of your stupor and complacency, especially about violence. I doubt western studios would tackle something like this though - at least not by using such young protagonists. It would surely re-ignite the impossible debate about violence and film. If I can risk being pretencious here, art is all about provoking a reaction, to make you think and or feel in ways you rarely have before. However, having said that, I would not be in any hurry to watch a film like this again. Frankly I need to sleep at nights.

Eden Law

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