Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Battle Royale

I was supposed to write about 2 other films (Memento and The Phantom of the Opera) which I've seen over the weekend however this movie had shocked me in more ways than ever possible. And here I was thinking that I had been "desensitized" beyond human tolerance, having seen such movies as Irreversible (where Monica Belucci gets raped and her lover beats the rapist to a pulp-literally) and shows like CSI (where every murder is replicated thru a diorama and close up re-enactments). I thought I've seen everything.

But along comes this:


Kitano: Listen up! Because of folks like Kuninobu here, this country's absolutely no good anymore. So the big-wigs got together and passed this law...BATTLE ROYALE. So today's lesson is... you kill each other off 'til there's only one left. Nothing's against the rules.

Thats no typo there. They have to kill each other. A film considered to be the most controversial entry of the year 2000, Kinji Fukasaku brought to life on the big screen the novel created by Koushun Takami.

At the dawn of the new millennium, Japan is ina a state of near-collapse. Unemployment is at an all-time high, and violence amongst the nations youth is spiralling out of control. With school children boycotting their lessons and physically abusing their teachers, a beleaguered and near-defeated government decides to introduce a radical new measure: the Battle Royale Act Overseen by their former teacher, Kitano ('Beat' Takeshi) and requiring that a randomly chosen school class be taken to a deserted island and forced to fight each other to the death, the Act dictates that only one pupil be allowed to survive the punishment. He or she will return, not as the victor, but as the ultimate proof of the lengths to which the government are prepared to go to curb the tide of juvenile disobedience.

The movie is both a visceral gore fest, and a thinking man's wake up call. However what I find commendable about the film despite its mind numbing premise is its audacity to explore an idea and present it in the most realistic way possible. It had always been a trend for young and fresh directors to create a film that challenges the "oldtimers", but this movie is the exact opposite. A director with enough feathers in his cap try to give his successors something to try and top.

It's sick. Strange. Beautiful. Familiar. Different. And completely engaging.

I'm now a convert to the rising powerhouse which is the Japanese film industry. You see in this country, there are still tradional rules that bind them, but when it comes to artistic expression, they do not hold back. Sadly, this can not be said for its western counterpart. I'm beginning to notice that almost all products coming out from Hollywood are movies that dwell on the safe side of things. They cater only what they believe the masses would embrace.

Mimura: How were we chosen?
Kitano: By impartial lottery
Mimura: One more?
Kitano: Sure
Mimura: Why are you doing this?
Kitano: It's your own damned fault...Life is a game. So fight for survival and find out if you're worth it.

This movie, albeit violent in every sense of the word, is not set out to trivialize the human capacity to kill. For me, its so hard not to get into the grit of the film. The director intentionally set it in a very lush island, filled with breathtaking shots and vistas, enough to take your mind off the carnage for a brief instant, then plunge you back in again. Another thing he did so deliberately, was to choose actors so...so, compellingly beautiful, its so painful for you to see them get mutilated, shot, eviscerated, even dicapitated for use as a bomb.

There will possibly come a time when a dystopic culture such as this is running rampant on these shores. Heck even now, we can feel its scalding reverberations. Upheavals, terrorist acts, murder...Just yesterday, we were all witness to its frightening grip. Unseen hands striking that chord of alarm, and they can't even chose a better day than the day of hearts.

Are we witnessing the collapse of everything we hold dear?

Watch it.


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