Battle Royale (2000)
Dir. Kinji Fukasaku
“Beat” Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda
Could a movie like Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale be made in America? I doubt it. Especially post 9/11. There were rumors of it being made at one point, but I haven’t heard anything of late. There have been plenty of U.S. horror flicks, exploitation flicks, and violent action flicks after the fall of the towers and the invasion of Iraq, some even addressing the events, but none really condemning violence and war itself. None that I can think of anyway. Is War of the Worlds anti war because it depicts a scene reminiscent of people running as the towers fell? How about the current Cloverfield? An obvious analogy to the events of 9/11. I didn’t see it, and although I read a few objectionable reviews about using 9/11 as a platform for a horror movie, it seemed like most viewers took it for what it was, a monster movie.
What does 9/11 have to do with Battle Royale? Nothing really. It came out in 2000, a full year after the killings at Columbine High and a year before 9/11. I think its what has happened in America after 9/11, where Battle Royal seems to reflect American society. In Fukasaku’s film, during a national crisis in Japan with millions out of work, the government, in a panic, implements the “Battle Royal” act.
- “At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence, and fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act – AKA: The BR Act…”
The BR act involves a game, in which every year an entire class of high-schoolers are shipped to an island and forced to kill each other. The sole survivor of the game gets to live and return home, but only if everyone else is killed. Special collars are fitted on each student. If the rules aren’t followed, the collar explodes, taking their head off. The games apparently are followed by the general public, although they aren’t televised. The winner however, is video tapped on their return.
To many film-goers this premise seemed ridiculous and absurd. But it wasn’t to Fukasaku, who grew up during WWII in Japan, and saw first hand how a civilization can be brought to barbarism. How family and friends can easily turn on each other when the will to survive kicks in and instincts take over. And as far as the BR act being more science fiction than fact, the “Patriot Act” was implemented merely a month after 9/11, giving law enforcement agencies unprecedented powers in the name of “national security”.
What’s amazing about Fukasaku is that he strips all romantic notions about war and violence from his films. That’s something that Americans can’t seem to do. Saving Private Ryan for all its amazing technical achievements, and realistic depictions of battle, still had a sentimental and nostalgic atmosphere to it. I remember seeing the trailer for that film, where they used an image ripped right out of Gone with The Wind where Scarlett O’Hara claims she’ll never go hungry again, with the sunset setting behind her. In the trailer, it’s the image of a soldier just coming over a hill. This is how Hollywood depicts war and violence, with romance.
You won’t find that in Fukasakus films, and it’s the real reason Battle Royale was never released in America, and probably will never be remade here. He addresses the cause of violence head on, the reasons why we kill, the reasons why we kill our own brothers, or send them off to be killed, in a ritualistic attempt to appease the gods, that have forsaken us; blown up the volcano, raised the river, broke the damn and bombed the city.
It’s easy to be fooled by Fukasaku’s B-Movie style into thinking Battle Royale is nothing more than an exploitation flick. Indeed, Fukusaku knows his exploitation, but unlike say Brian DePalma or Tarantino, Fukusaku is sharing first hand experience of the human condition under the most terrifying conditions. He’s seen what humans are capable of doing, much more horrific than anything Michael Myers or Jason or Freddy Kruger could ever hope to achieve or imagine.
So, how come America looks forward to the remakes of “Halloween” and “Dawn of the Dead”, but shuns the genius of Battle Royale ?
It’s hard to look in the mirror sometimes.