If you thought that the Hunger Games was a shocking portrayal of children doing terrible things to each other, then Battle Royale may be too much for you.
Battle Royale takes an entire class of ninth graders (this is the year before high school in Japan), and pits them against one another in a battle to the death. If they disobey or try to escape, then an explosive device attached to their jugular goes off to bloody consequences.
Now, neither game exactly has a premise that makes any sense. Did they get food if they won the Hunger Games? Is that how that was supposed to work? It was never explained in the film (or maybe I was so bored I didn't notice). In Battle Royale, it's not clear if the game is supposed to be a yearly punishment or if it is supposed to be a preventative device. If the selection of the class was not random, but rather randomly selected from a pool of problem classrooms, then it would have made a lot more sense to me.
As it is, it appears to be just a very sadistic way to kill a lot of children.
A lot of children:
Spoiler: Over 90% of these people die:
There are multiple warnings before the show begins stating that the program is not appropriate for children under 15. In Japan, I imagine that this would be similar to an R rating and if it was theatrically released in America, it may have even been an NC-17 film (and by may have, I'm pretty sure it would have. You can't really show kids dying violently and expect to keep an R).
There are a LOT of gory depictions of children-on-children violence and adult-on-children violence. There's even some children-on-adult violence thrown in there in the beginning.
There are guns, grenades, kama, explosives, swords, knives and more.
But, and this is where the film really shines, there is an incredible emotional core.
I don't know how you felt during the Hunger Games. I imagine that you probably read the book so you knew what all the characters were thinking and feeling. No matter how good Jennifer Lawrence did with her stoic representation of Katniss, the movie felt emotionally disconnected. It was devoid of any sort of intimacy and deliberately so. There was nothing between ANY of the characters.
In Battle Royale, you are hit over and over again with the fact that these kids grew up together (with a couple notable exceptions). Nearly every death has a sucker punch quality to it and each and every character of the class that we get more than a snapshot of time with is sympathetic, including the teachers.
It is also, a MUCH more realistic portrayal of how ninth graders and children might handle such a happening. There are many that cannot handle it, unlike in the Hunger Games where each individual bucks up and finds some never-say-die core inside.
Battle Royale is a stunning film that is all the more chilling for its contemporariness. I truly enjoyed the film and most of my complaints are mere nitpicks than true flaws.
The one sincere criticism I have is, as I mentioned, I wish the reasoning behind killing all the children would have been just slightly more solid. A few times it is mentioned they were selected entirely at random, but random punishment does not correct behavior, so it leaves a gap in reasoning for me. If the class had been selected out of a group of "bad" classes, then I would have no real criticism. Do they explain this in the manga?
Also, it would have been nice to see a path for their society towards ending such a violent game (or conversely, towards complete destruction of society). As it was, the film appears to be a mere "day-in-the-life" of one particular Battle Royale.
Zero's Review: A-. Strongly recommended. A- for not being able to get past the reasoning for the games.
Here's the Amazon link:
P.S. It's in Japanese with subtitles. I believe there is a dub-track, but I did not bother with it. I heard that it is unintentionally humorous, so I'd stick with the native Japanese.
P.P.S. If you're curious about the Hunger Games comparison. There are a lot of people that believe the Hunger Games idea was a rip-off of Battle Royale. According to the author of HG, this isn't the case, but that's fine, because Battle Royale is better in almost every regard. Oh, I just found this: http://whatculture.com/film/10-reasons-the-hunger-games-isnt-a-rip-off-of-battle-royale.php Some of the points I've made already, but it is a point-by-point comparison of the two (spoiler: Battle Royale wins). So, that's cool.
P.P.P.S. If you like testimonials, Quentin Tarantino has said that this is his favorite movie made in the last 20 years and is the number one film that he wishes he had made since he started making movies.