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Battle Royale

Could you kill your best friend? 

Year: 2000 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 18 Cert – Not suitable for under 18s 
Subtitles: It is expected that this film is fully subtitled. 
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku 
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto  
An image from Battle Royale

Battle Royale is a bloody thriller where a school class of teenagers are placed on an island and given three days to kill each other until only one is left.

Class 3-B go on a school trip but in transit they were gassed and taken to an island. They awake in an unfamiliar room with collars on. Their ex-teacher is there to greet them and puts on a video that explains the rules of the game. They have three days to kill each other, anyone who does anything against the rules will be killed with the use of the collar. Once released some of them enjoy themselves while others do not engage and simply try to plan escapes or avoid the blood-thirsty students.

Many refer to Battle Royale as the original Hunger Games, and there are clear plot similarities. Both have similar premises of dystopian futures where groups of children are sent into an arena with the goal to kill each other in an attempt to control rebellious groups, in Battle Royale it is protesting students. However, Battle Royale is much more brutal and harrowing. There is less censorship so young teenagers shooting each other with arrows or stabbing with knives is shown with more graphic detail. It was sensational enough to be banned in many countries but is one of the highest grossing films in Japan ever which are both signs of a pretty good film.

Rhiannon Williams

One of the biggest hits of all time in its native Japan, "Battle Royale" perfectly taps into the modern zeitgeist, whether it be contemplating youth alienation, peoples' desire for all the more outrageous and realistic entertainment, or simply the effect of violence on our lives. At heart it is a savage, uncompromising comedy which juxtaposes the everyday elements of modern teenage life with loneliness, love etc, with the extreme measures necessary as a result of the primal desire to survive.

In essence "Battle Royale" is Golding's "Lord of the Flies" with more kids and guns. Lots of guns. A school class is chosen at random and sent to a specially prepared island where they are given the rules of the game - kill or be killed. Decked out with a survival kit and a weapon (whether this be a grenade launcher, UZI 9mm or a frying pan, either use it or die) the kids are sent off individually into the wild and left to fend entirely for themselves. And within the wilds bonds are forged, traps are set, and lives are (very frequently) lost.

By necessity the plot of the film is limited, the film relying instead on its thematic power and its excellent performances to strengthen its appeal. The child actors are never less than convincing, but the film is stolen by the legendary Takeshi "Beat" Kitano, the writer/director/star of many a Japanese gangster classic. As the sardonic, unpredictable and insanely dangerous school teacher, Kitano brings at once a sense of gravitas and paradoxically a humorous slant very much in line with the spirit of the film as a whole. Teachers, no doubt, will particularly admire his wish fulfilling classroom attitude, when "talking at the back" can literally be the death of you.

This is a film that could never have been made in America - its emotional resonance is too strong and its themes too close to the bone, in fact "Battle Royale", despite its enormous cult-appeal, has been shunned by all US distributors thus far. The concept of children being forced to kill one another is effortlessly controversial, and the film certainly does not pull any of its punches, but is nevertheless one of the most thought-provoking, intelligent and downright extreme films of the year. Together with "Series 7", "Battle Royale" delves down deep into our desire to be entertained by more and more disturbing and dangerous subject matter, and manages to be darn entertaining along the way.

Greg Taylor

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Screenings of this film:

2001/2002 Spring Term (35mm)
2004/2005 Autumn Term (35mm)
2018/2019 Spring Term (digital)