Before the main review, do remember if you're in the Edinburgh area and consider yourself a bit of a horror fan then THIS is for you - the All Night Horror Madness at The Cameo promises to be a great night and after enjoying the movies that are lined up I will be placing reviews here next week.
In the future, Japanese society isn't holding up as well as it used to and so the government takes more and more extreme measures to punish and cow the population. In a premise familiar to movie fans, people are grouped together and left in an area that they can only leave once all bar one is dead. They are given a bag with a weapon (well, a useful item ranging from binoculars to a gun), they have exploding collars around their necks to keep them in line and they have to be ready to move at any moment when certain areas are designated as danger zones and can no longer be occupied (otherwise it leads to that exploding collar . . . . . . . . exploding). The most upsetting thing about it is that those picked for the battle are just schoolkids.
That's the basic core of Battle Royale, but it doesn't really begin to cover just what makes this movie so fantastic. It is a Lord Of The Flies for the 21st century that also manages to mix in elements of Wedlock and The Running Man with a bit of Class Of 1984 and just a pinch of Heartbreak High (or the Japanese equivalent). As highly derivative as it is, it also manages to feel very fresh and interested in more than just stringing together darkly comedic death scenes. Okay, you may find that hard to believe as each death is accompanied by the name(s) of the deceased and the running count of how many are left alive, but it's true.
Based on the book by Koushun Takami, the script by Kenta Fukasaku is handled perfectly by his father, Kinji Fukasaku. With 42+ characters, it may seem quite dense and confusing in the early scenes, but things soon settle down as the deaths begin and viewers are given time to familiarise themselves with the main characters.
Takeshi Kitano plays the (ex-)teacher who explains the rules to the children before sending them out to begin their fight for survival. Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Ko Shibasaki, Chiaki Muriyama and Sosuke Takaoka all play various combatants who manage to stand out from the crowd. Ando and Shibasaki are particularly enjoyable thanks to their clear sociopathic tendencies, but everyone does well in their respective roles. There are times when you get the usual histrionics associated, rightly or wrongly, with the Japanese acting style, but they are few and far between.
The violence and death may be ugly, but the movie has some nice camerawork that keeps the action in focus without revelling in every single drop of blood spilled. The soundtrack, mixing well-known classical pieces with music by Masamichi Amano, fits perfectly with the way everything is presented.
Even now, while writing this review, I am struck by what a strange movie Battle Royale is and what a delicate balance of elements it maintains from start to finish. There are emotional moments, there are horrible and hilarious mistakes that end up in multiple deaths, there are moments in which the rules of the schoolyard run in scary parallel to the rules of the deathmatch and the whole thing almost bulges at the edges of each frame with social commentary. And, of course, there are all of those schoolchildren frantically trying to kill each other.