There’s a saying that you never truly know if you can trust someone until your life is in their hands. Based on the Japanese novel Batoru Rowaiaru by Koushun Takami, Battle Royale puts this theory to the test in the most brutal ways imaginable.
In this dysptopian action-thriller, we follow a ninth grade class as they are chosen for the Japanese government’s annual Battle Royale. Several years ago, 800,000 students walked out of school, so the Battle Royale, or BR Act, was instituted. Each year, a new class is chosen, and the students are pit against each other in a fight to the death. The students are placed on a remote island, given three days to kill their classmates, and told that if more than one person is alive after than time, everyone will be killed.
After their teacher, Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) is attacked by another student and resigns, class 3-B falls into utter disarray. Because the students of Japan, and this class in particular, are unruly and out of control, Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) is the only student still attending, even if there is no teacher. The students reunite, however, a year later when they are told that there is an upcoming field trip. The students expect the same sort of fun and slacking off that they’re used to. What they get instead is gassed, fitted with electronic, exploding collars, and told via an incredibly cheery instructional video that they’re currently on borrowed time.
Their former teacher, Kitano relishes this opportunity to finally assert some control over the class and kills two students, taking them out of the game immediately, for interrupting him. Our protagonist, Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is still recovering from the suicide of his father, and one of the murdered boys was his best friend, Yoshitoki Kuninobu (Yukihiro Kotani). After walking around in a fog for so long, Shuya is forced to snap to attention when he realizes that he’s definitely not ready to die, and he doesn’t want to see any more of his classmates die, either.
Each student is given a bag of food and water, a compass, a map of the island, and a weapon. The weapons range in strength and efficiency: a paper fan, a rifle, a trash can lid, poison. The students are also armed with the knowledge that the collars around their heads will take out any uncooperative students, or anyone in the randomly chosen, ever-changing danger zones on the island. Suddenly, it’s every person for themselves in a group of kids who were already ridiculously self-absorbed and self-serving.
Friendships are weighed, measured, and found lacking. Enemies get a unique means of enacting revenge against each other. As his classmates run around trying to kill and/or avoid being killed, Shuya wants to find a way to save everyone. Together with Noriko and his friend Shogo Kawada (Taro Yamamoto), Shuya is determined to beat the odds, but not everyone wants the entire group to survive, and any morsel of trust that ever existed is gone. Now that everyone is outfitted with a weapon, tensions are high, and paranoia even higher.
Often compared to both A Clockwork Orange and The Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale absolutely stands up to and far surpasses these comparisons in a film that’s gory, gritty, horrifying, though-provoking, and deeply disturbing in the best possible way. As we watch these children turn into ruthless killers who use their weapons, their wits, and and even their sexuality in a twisted game of survival, we can only judge them so harshly, as we ask ourselves what we might do in that situation.
A riveting social commentary, Battle Royale is often mislabeled a horror film, simply because the savagery that the class is reduced to is so shocking to take in. This stunning social commentary depicts, on a much smaller scale, how true allyship is nearly impossible when everyone is armed, and the survival of one depends on the destruction of another. This critically acclaimed cult classic is worth all the accolades and then some as we navigate the sheer brutality and despair of class 3-B, and Shuya’s desperate hope to keep them alive .
I give this one 5 stars.