When Battle Royale was released in Japan in December 2000 it received a R-15 classification, meaning that director Kinji Fukusaku’s primary audience could not legally see the film. Fukusaku therefore went public with a statement to the effect of “Children! I made this film for you! See it however you can — break the law! Sneak into the cinema! Just watch the film!”
Fukusaku wasn’t just worried about his box office — BR isn’t just for teenagers because it exploits a teenage audience – it is a political film with a very heavy moral heart. It is also extremely controversial.
This film features 40-odd schoolkids dying violently at each other’s hands. It has yet to receive cinematic release in the US (no distributor will touch it), and its appearance in the UK in September 2001 was greeted with howls of protest from the usual ‘concerned’ members of the community. Frankly I’m surprised that BR has made it to Australia at all — I don’t know what version is being shown (uncut or otherwise), but it doesn’t matter. I’m as impressed as surprised actually, but I hope its release causes as much of a stink as it deserves.
Controversy = ticket sales, simple as that. There is no such thing as bad publicity I think the saying goes, and given last year’s furore over Baise-Moi I’m pretty sure it’s true as well. When I reviewed Audition I suggested that that film might get a ‘response’ — it didn’t, and compared to BR didn’t deserve one. The more people that see Fukusaku’s work the better though, and there’s a pretty good chance someone will kick up a fuss; BR is violent, but it’s more the fact that it turns some of our strongest social taboos on their heads in such a pointed way that makes it a target.
This is a brilliant film. Sure, it’s brutal, but Fukusaku doesn’t rely solely on the shock factor to keep his audience in their seats — he’s also a master director. Cheap and nasty this ain’t. Every one of the (very young) actors puts in an incredible performance, simply (or not) by acting their age. These are all ‘real’ characters with real and recognisable problems and personalities. Jealousy, insecurity, teenage crushes — these all play an important part in BR because they help ground the reality of the film. Fukusaku never abuses the novelty of 14 year-olds killing each other because it never becomes a novelty. It hurts when every one of them dies.
Oh, and Beat Takeshi is ace too.
Should you end up in the cinema watching this… well, I can’t really imagine anyone walking out of BR. The moral questions the film asks are also its stability, should you find things too confronting and need something to hold on to. These questions are not a justification for watching the violence — rather, the violence genuinely gives rise to the questions, so even if you’re not particularly shocked by what you see, you still have to think about it. Fukusaku proves his characters worthy not just of an emotional response but also a lot of thought as well.
Truthfully, I don’t really know if Battle Royale will cause a controversy. It’s not French and it deals with death rather than sex, so that’s at least two points against it on the BAN-THIS-SICK-FILMOMETER. Either way though, don’t wait until it becomes a talking point before you see it — if you enjoy being challenged by what you watch, or even if you don’t (hell, especially if you don’t), get to the cinema now. RUN!