Home Entertainment Cinophile: BATTLE ROYALE


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We might as well address the elephant in the room. The Hunger Games – either you thought of that immediately or you are now wondering what this modern classic of extreme Japanese cinema has to do with Katniss and her rebels.

There is no doubt The Hunger Games resembles Battle Royale: both involve teenagers killing each other down to one survivor, all at the behest of an autocratic government. But they share few other similarities. One is a serious-but-light action movie, the other was until recently banned in Germany.

A near-future Japan, fighting with rising unemployment and youth crime, enacts the BR act. Its solution to maintain youth control is to randomly select a school class and have them fight to the last person on a deserted island. The class is kidnapped during a school trip, given a brief but jarring orientation, and are sent packing with three days to kill everyone else.

Half of them probably die because they couldn’t quite grasp or accept what was going down. The result is a rather spectacular amount of violent deaths, a trend that weaves in and out as the movie reveals more about some of the characters. But there are over forty students, almost all of whom meet some kind of violent end.

It’s hard to call Battle Royale gratuitous today – it’s no more gory than the colour version of Kill Bill’s restaurant fight. It’s not violence porn, but more violence as a statement – kinda like Paul Verhoeven or Quentin Tarantino’s films. There is just quite a lot of it.

Director Kinji Fukasaku was an old hand at making movies and comfortably switched between different cinematic styles. He took what could have been cheesy violence porn and delivered something that has invited comparisons with A Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies.

Today Battle Royale stands alongside the likes of Oldboy as an Asian cult movie must-see. It staggers a little at the end, struggling with the weight of the story. But the acting, including a great cast of fifteen year olds and legendary actor Beat Takeshi, and the fine filmmaking carries this classic through.

Come to think of it, The Hunger Games could have used some plagiarism. Nothing ups the ante like a decapitated head bomb.

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Battle Royale is a novel and has also had a comic (manga) adaptation. Director Kinji Fukasaku decided to film the novel because it reminded him of his experiences as a teenager during World War 2.
There was a short skirmish between the director and Japan’s ratings authority. They wanted to give it a mature age restriction, which would exclude fifteen-years olds – even though all the characters and actors were around that age. Legend has it that Fukasaku leaked a press release encouraging teenagers to sneak into screenings.
Sadly the director died two years later while starting work on the sequel. His son completed the project, but it was vastly inferior and flopped badly.
Battle Royale failed to secure any distribution in the U.S. Test audiences, watching it after the Columbine shootings, reacted negatively and studios wouldn’t touch it because of the violence. Germany blocked it until 2013 and Japan tried but failed to get it banned. Nonetheless the film frequents top lists, is one of Japan’s highest grossing movies and won numerous awards.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: August 17, 2015


  1. Kromas,powered by windows 10.

    August 17, 2015 at 18:32

    This over that horrible tween drama (Hunger Games) any day of the week.


  2. Nick de Bruyne

    August 17, 2015 at 23:20

    Battle Royale is one of my favourite films, and I happened to watch it again just last week with my brother who committed the crime of having not seen it yet.

    I think what makes this film so special to me is that it captures the essence of the reality that dawns upon people in this situation. The suicides, the fear-induced early rampages and one of my favourite scenes that proves how fragile a happy little alliance can be when something goes wrong and just how damn fast it escalates.

    It might lack all of the Hollywood flair and personal dramas that get dumped all over a film like The Hunger Games (although it has its merits), it just feels properly raw and you have to love it for that.

    Also, being pre-school shootings and from Japan, it has to be sort be looked at like… well, like a Lamborghini Countach, it’s tons of fun, loud, noisy and crazy to look at, but most importantly, you aren’t allowed to make them anymore because by today’s standards they are seen as insane, uncomfortable and unsafe, so if you want something like that in todays age, you *have* to go back.

    Battle Royale is a Lamborghini Countach.


    • James Francis

      August 18, 2015 at 07:01

      Totally agree, except for the last bit – I think Battle Royale opened the door for more such movies. The world was a lot less tolerant fifteen years ago before it shattered some taboos. That said, I can’t think of many films that breached the topic of teenage homicide like this. God Bless America, maybe?


      • Nick de Bruyne

        August 18, 2015 at 11:16

        God Bless America touched on the subject in a very different way I think, and it felt more to me like dark humour rather than this sort of raw brutality. I think that the way that The Hunger Games films have been handled really pushes my point, as global audiences are rather being catered to with mushy love stories and heroism, while at the same time even though the story was never as hardcore as Battle Royale, I’m told by book readers that the books were actually quite a bit more violent and that the movie dialled back quite a lot of that as well.

        Unlike the car, maybe it *can* still be made, but when it comes to the financial security of films, the studios are always wet blankets that want to play it safe to fill the coffers rather than push for something special. Deadpool is pulling it off and heck, no one even know why and how the studio allowed it, not even Ryan Reynolds lol. I think come release day they are still gonna be looking at the execs like “this isn’t a joke right, you’re actually letting us release this?”.

        As many know, Tarantino listed Battle Royale as one of his favorite movies of all time, and it actually feels like its really only someone like him that could truly bring a concept like this to the U.S. Man, I would love to see something like that from him.


        • James Francis

          August 18, 2015 at 14:02

          Yeah, I do agree that the current studio culture is not geared towards such a film. Deadpool probably only got greenlit because the comic book film formula has grown to demand a level of authenticity.

          I also see your point about Battle Royale’s grim brutality and that the grim bit in particular wouldn’t fly even today. I was more thinking about the brutality aspect – in this post-Hostel world that is not as big an issue as before.

          But its outlook and context are definitely not what audiences want. No romance, no warm-fuzzy feelings and no emotional pandering. In that context I’m not surprised Deadpool got the go-ahead. It may turn out to be violent, but it will still likely treat the audience like a bunch of teenagers.

          On Tarantino, the man loves flashiness a bit too much. I think Christopher Nolan’s style is closer to realising something this grim. I’d also like the guy who made Everly to take a stab at a similar idea.


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