Exhausted after a day of surfing, I scrolled through hundreds of action movies on Netflix, and finally picked Battle Royale, due to its reputation as one of the best foreign films of the 21st century. Although I knew I was in for a ride of garish violence, I was pleasantly surprised by the tense and complex nature of this film, along with its unique choices in execution and enticing premise.
With Mockingjay: Part II in theatres, it's almost impossible to watch Battle Royale without thinking, “Yep, this is totally The Hunger Games, except bloodier and better”, but let me clarify this. While the main premise (teenagers put into a natural arena to kill each other off) is strikingly similar, the violence is not at a cautious PG-13 level, but rather an unrestrained R level, with an explicit warning inserted at the start of the narrative. Kids are shot at, stabbed, decapitated, bludgeoned, etc (more spoilers will follow), and we are exposed to violence that is occasionally over-the-top, but unflinchingly brutal.
The overall plot and premise of Battle Royale is good, however, it lacks the volcanic mixture of excitement, awe and suspense that other films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly expertly possess. There are also a few subplots that wear out their welcome, such as Noriko’s relationship with Kitano, and there isn't much character development occurring between the two leads. There are some fun moments, but it sometimes feels like the movie is making a bit too much of an effort to be fun. Moreover, the main moral of the film isn’t fleshed out enough and remains ambiguous.
What I do like about the film, however, is the decision to have children, not adults, kill each other off, so their loss of innocence to violence impacts us more. Most of the students are quite relatable and archetypal; you have the zealous class president (Yukie), the quiet-as-a-mouse girl (Yuko), the mean girl that no one trusts (Mitsuko) and the deeply disturbed introvert (Kiriyama). The latter two are characters that you love to hate, and their deaths, to a disturbing effect, instigate cheers and satisfaction from the audience.
As far as execution goes (no pun intended), the island of Okishima is expertly used as a setting, with every type of location and hiding place manifested throughout the film. It is also worth noting that classical music is used in a very eerie fashion for the film’s soundtrack. Quite famous classical works, such as The Radetzky March, The Blue Danube Waltz and Air, are juxtaposed with images of violence and despair, sometimes to shocking effects. Although the film is about children, the usage of gory and extreme violence and the overall disturbing nature of Battle Royale are most definitely a film that should only be viewed by mature audiences.
Rating - ☆ ☆ ☆ ½