With The Hunger Games becoming a popular franchise and all, it's only fair that I should re-watch and review the movie which first introduced us to the concept of kids going ape shit and killing each other for no particular reason.
Let's talk Battle Royale.
Directed by the late, great Kinji Fukasaku, Battle Royale is set in a troubled dystopian version of Japan where, every so often, a high school class is picked for an elaborate, deadly game where everyone is sent to a deserted island and made to kill each other until only one remains. A chilling yet always likeable Takeshi Kitano teaches them the rules of the game, they are then given weapons, necklaces rigged to explode, maps, a list of danger zones to avoid and a time limit before being sent out into the wild. You'd think that it would take longer for these kids to kill one another but the action starts straight away and the kills are always completely satisfying in how gory and bloody they are. It's a sadistic flick about a sadistic game in a sadistic society so it only makes sense that the violence would match that cruel, blood-thirsty spirit. But Battle Royale isn't just a shoot 'em up where kids just kill each other mindlessly, you do have a couple of main characters you follow throughout, a small group led by a computer hacker who have their own subplot and you get to peek into all the moral struggles each of these innocent brats are made to deal with. Some decide to commit suicide and not kill anyone but themselves, some freak the hell out, some kill for the fun of it and, of course, there are misunderstandings and accidents along the way. This is a completely different approach than The Hunger Games in that the focus isn't so much behind the scenes as it is the game itself but some of the same themes are explored and a lot is stolen from this movie when it comes to the game's concept.
The humour, here, is really dark but genuinely funny. The film knows how cartoonish a lot of its kills are and it decides to have fun with that. One guy, for example, gets an axe slammed into his head and someone just asks earnestly "Are you OK?". The cast is brilliant and everyone fits their character perfectly, creating a tragically convincing high school class and adding sobering realism to an otherwise outlandish sci-fi concept. As fun as it is to see all these mostly selfish and bitter kids kill themselves in creative, at times plain crazy ways, you do get to know and even get to like some of them so, every so often, there's a sad moment where one of the ones you wanted to survive ends up dying needlessly. This is a perfect example of a simple concept done exactly the way it should be, never going too far or underselling anything. Even its sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem couldn't live up to it. The way the film is shot has a lot to do with how well this movie works: Fukasaku keeping things real with what feels like natural lighting and tightly edited, cleverly angled mini battle sequences. Every time a character meets another, you really feel the tension instantly as you try to guess whether a clash will occur and, if so, who will come out on top and how. Also, despite introducing weaponised necklaces and a hilariously inappropriate anime-style TV intro to the game, the film is never too sci-fi for its own good, instead choosing to keep things as real as possible for maximum impact.
Battle Royale is survival horror sci-fi at its most creative and the film is still something of a modern masterpiece. Completely entertaining, thoroughly well made, very funny, very dark, it's insane but it never forgets to feel somewhat real and stay relatively convincing despite some of the goofier stuff that happens, which makes it more threatening.
It's simply extremely good.