Battle Royal Midnight Movie Review
By Bret Dorman
My mom has an understandable phobia of “eye parts” in movies. I’m talking any time a character is in danger of having their eyes gauged, pierced, popped, poked, stabbed, nubbed, or aggressively rubbed. She closes her eyes and squirms until someone tells her it’s over. I, being a fan of horror up to and including ultra-violent slashers, have seen many “eye parts.” I accept the challenge and tough them out, but it is a challenge. Somehow genetically my moms “eye part” phobia must have been imparted on to me.
So when a friend of mine suggested I read a book called Battle Royale, which he sold as an ultra-violent book, I accepted that challenge as well. A book? Ultra-violent? Come on… It can’t be that bad! Lo and behold, at some point in the book, the author describes, in FULL detail, knuckle by knuckle, a student eye gauging another. It was the grossest thing I have ever read. And I can’t remember if this comes before or after the author details a student shot in the face while wearing a motorcycle-type helmet which causes the bullets to ricochet throughout turning the contents of the helmet into “soup.” Yeah…
Then upon hearing of a movie I was, like most of the Battle Royale fans, weary. The book was just so intense. There’s NO way that the movie could be- what? Japanese? “Banned” in America? This movie was harder to get a hold of than the Jerry Lee Lewis Nazi-Clown movie. But then thanks to a little phenomenon called The Hunger Games, Battle Royale sought a new way into the minds, hearts, and guts of the good ol’ US of A. (Note: I won’t be using this opportunity to express my disliking of The Hunger Games. Midnight Movies are about celebration, not damnation.)The Story: It is a somewhat near future in Japan in which kids hate school and even more so, adults in general. They run rampant throughout the halls and streets, stabbing and cutting teachers for no good reason. So Japan creates the BR Act, which allows them to kidnap a classroom of students, put them on an island, and force them to kill each other until only one is left. Shuya and Noriko (Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda) are our two main lovebirds out to beat the odds… together! Also, Japanese TV models are oddly enthusiastic about murder. Battle Royale is legendary for its violence. So what’s the deal? Is it one of the most violent movies ever made? Possibly… But there are a lot of movies purposefully trying to do that as well (Rambo, anyone?). It is very violent. The camera does not shy away or try to hide its subject material. In fact, the camera will even stay on the lifeless, dead bodies of its victims for a couple extra seconds to show not just the carnage, but the aftermath as as well. Not only that, but the movie shows every single death. Every one. In a movie like this it’s easy to gloss over a couple, or start the “kill count” gimmick and let it fade away or only come back sporadically. But no. Even when a character mentions off screen deaths the movie will cut to their dead, and usually bloody, bodies. It wants you to be aware of the finality of the island’s dwindling population.
More so than the abundance of blood may be the abundance of love. I’m not a huge fan of when characters in movies toss around the “L” word so casually, but here it seems okay for two reasons. One, the characters are all young teenagers, who feel these feelings at a heightened level due to hormones. Now that alone isn’t enough for me, since I tend to find teenagers annoying (whether it’s on purpose or not I don’t care) but the second thing is, they are being forced to KILL each other. It’s now or never folks! Seeing and hearing class mates die around you, you aren’t going to tell someone you “LIKE-like” them. What’s the point? Instead characters try to team up and save others out of foolish love. Most of the time it ends up getting them killed.Performance wise, the movie doesn’t feel like a self-aware dark comedy (which I would have assumed it was). Instead everyone approaches the life side very seriously, not just hamming it up knowing they will die after a few moments of screen time anyway. Chiaki Kuriyama (Go Go in Kill Bill) has a great moment of looking directly into the camera while shouting a line about resisting any attack. Tarô Yamamoto is cool as the experienced guerrilla fighter and Masanobu Ando (despite having terrible aim with an uzi) is great as a mute madman. The two main characters are innocent enough, which contrasts perfectly with Takeshi Kitano. Kitano is perfect as their old school instructor now in charge of the kids on the island. He shows such ambivalence towards the deaths as his raspy voice rattles off the murdered kids. He has moments where he’s just staring ahead, his blank eyes not seeing anything. Just cold, sad eyes. And yet at the end you can’t help but feel his plight in how helpless he is in his inability to change anything, through teaching or violence.
Lastly, I wanted to start with the violence and end with it. Violence here isn’t just used to satisfy the blood lust of the audience (although it certainly does, and if my memory serves me correctly that was even part of the book. An organization that bet on which kid would survive). The violence is used to show that no matter what, it’s part of our human nature. Brought down to basic instinct, people will do anything to survive. Lie, cheat, or even horribly maim and murder their friends. What we must not lose sight of is that in the moments of death, we seek the light. That light is what we should try to live our wholes lives by, instead of just the final moments.
Why You Must See It At Midnight: Battle Royale is not child’s play. It is not just for people to cheer over the mindless violence. It is not about satisfying bloodlust in a world with no gladiators. It is a film. One that looks at the human condition in an extreme circumstance and examines how different people react when pushed to inhumane limits. So this Friday and Saturday, don’t just go to a friends house to watch a movie where a bunch of no name characters die, go to Music Box Theatre and see 30+ kids, all with names, being brutally slaughtered. You won’t get that kind of “entertainment” at a cineplex. The kind that sticks with you. That’s engaging. That’s art. That’s Midnight Movies.