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Body count: 41
Entertainment value: 4/5
Eek factor: 1/5
Ooh factor: 2/5
Ouch factor: 4/5
Film Elements
  • brawling
  • dystopia
  • gore
  • schoolchildren
Battle Royale is not the most serious movie you’ll ever see. It can go many ways--it can make you think, or it can make you laugh. However you choose to watch it, you’ll likely enjoy it.

In the near future, the Japanese youth have become so dangerous that the government has passed a law instituting the Battle Royale System. Every year, a busload of ninth-graders on their way to their end-of-the-year class trip are instead taken to a deserted island, where they must kill each other or die. Lucky Class 3B--they’ve been chosen this year.
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After getting knocked out by a chemical fog blown into the bus, the kids wake up in a “classroom” on the Battle Royale island with silver collars around their necks. Fully-armed soldiers stand guard at the doors should anyone try to escape. At first the students try to protest their strange treatment, demanding to know what in the world is going on. Once Kitano-sensei offs a couple students and his video sidekick, Onesan (reminiscent of 1984′s Big Brother), explains the Battle Royale System, their spunk soon disappears.
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Each student will be given three bottles of water, a loaf of bread, a map and compass, and a weapon. (It may be an excellent weapon, like a machine gun, or a lousy weapon, like a pot lid.) They have three days to kill each other until one remains. If more than one student lives at the end of three days, they all get blown up via their collars. If they try to escape, they get blown up. If they try to sabotage the system, they all get blown up. If they tamper with their collars, they get blown up. Kitano-sensei declares “off-limits areas” several times a day. If they don’t get out of those places on the grid before they go off-limits, they get blown up.
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The collars allow the government to monitor the students’ location, voices, and vital signs. (To see who is alive or dead, who is in a forbidden zone, and who is trying to leave the island.) As Onesan calls out the students’ names, they get their survival gear and hit the door running. It’s a brutal three days of survival in the wilderness, of kill or be killed. The children must ask themselves--Can I kill my best friend? Can I kill all of them? Or should I just kill myself?

It’s one of the more unusual bases for a movie, but it works well. If you try to find political or social commentary, you may be disappointed. Battle Royale does not take itself nearly as seriously as, say, Jisatsu Circle. That’s not to say that there’s nothing political or social about the movie altogether. One must wonder how juvenile delinquents could possibly become so violent that something like the Battle Royale System becomes necessary--and how, exactly, the system deters juvenile violence. Too, what kind of government could institute such at thing? And what kind of governed body would sit by while it happens? (To answer these questions, read the book, which is much more serious than the movie.)
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Rather than ask its viewers to reflect upon society, Battle Royale asks its viewers to reflect upon themselves.
“Could I kill my friends?”
“How could I possibly trust anyone I encounter on the island?”
“If I made it through such a thing, how would it change me?”
“How do I feel as I sit here watching children kill each other? What does this say about me?”
“Would I have the courage to try to find an alternative to ‘kill or be killed’?”
“What if I managed to survive? How would I live with myself?”
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The actors do a pretty good job with what they’re given, though sadly, no one puts on a particularly endearing performance. A few motives are questionable (Kiriyama wanted to be put in the program?) but most of the characters are appropriately paranoid. Kitano-sensei is delightfully despicable as he lounges in the headquarters, eating the cookies that one of the students baked for her friends. I just love Onesan, though we only see her for such a short time. Even something like the Battle Royale System needs a mascot. She’s cute, she’s cheerful, she’s animated; she’s downright genki as she explains how to slaughter classmates.
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Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Battle Royale is watching the different ways the students deal with their horrid situation. Some kill themselves; some set out to kill their classmates immediately; some set up house and wait to get blown up, spending their last days as pleasantly as possible; some try to find a way to fight the system. The island used to be inhabited by regular townsfolk, so there are all sorts of houses and businesses stocked with commodities just waiting to be broken into. The levels of suspense go up and down, but the level of interest never flags.
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There isn’t anything particularly creepy (in a ghost-like manner) or visually impressive about this movie, but its content far makes up for that. As mentioned, you can watch Battle Royale on several levels. If you leave it on the “I love bloodbaths” level, you ought to turn off your television satisfied. There aren’t any flying body parts, but there are a few buckets of blood. If you don’t like gore, you can take some comfort in the fact that it’s just too vividly red to really resemble human blood as well as it could. If you pay attention to the more thought-provoking aspects, you can likely make sense of the movie without having to watch it multiple times.
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The plot detail can’t hold a candle to what’s given in the book (available at most bookstores). Kiriyama, for example, appears to viciously mow down his classmates without remorse--in the book, we learn that due to brain damage as a child, he does not feel emotion. Another girl is willing to fight her classmates because she believes herself a space warrior from another planet.
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I highly recommend this movie, if for no other reason than its unique plot. Its suspense makes it one of those films that keep their entertainment value even when watched over and over again.