Jarv’s Best of 2000-2009. Number 3: Battle Royale

Now we reach the climax of the list, it becomes harder for me to separate and rank them. This is a film that I saw back when it was first released that just blew me away. It’s got a terrible reputation, mostly down to the bad timing behind the release (what with it being so close to Columbine) but to treat it as a mere exploitation film is to underrate and disparage a staggering achievement. Battle Royale is a masterpiece of dystopian cinema that creates a bleak and depressing landscape of generational fallout and every man for himself.

The premise and plot of the film are astoundingly simple. In the near future, society in Japan has collapsed. In a panic, the government pass the BR Act, that picks one class in a lottery, dumps them on a remote island, arms them and they fight to the death with only one pupil leaving.  Battle Royale is a violent film, and a brutal one at that, but it’s also a masterpiece, a film that manages to paint a haunting picture using a blood soaked pallet.

The director, Fukasaku, had a huge problem with this film. There is an absolutely enormous cast of cannon fodder, and if the slaughter is to be anything more than gratuitous and exploitative, then it is absolutely imperative that the viewer cares about those soon to die. If we haven’t got some sympathy for their plight, then all we’re watching is basically murder porn. Given that there are 40 students, it is obviously impossible to develop all of them- so there have to be careful choices as to who to develop and who to ignore. Fukasaku wisely limits his numbers by allowing several to kill themselves, either off camera or very briefly on camera, kills the least sympathetic pupil, Nobu (little shit) right at the start, and also makes the decision just to focus on a handful- our hero Shuya, Noriko, Mitsuko, Chigusa, Kawada, and the three wannabe anarchists (although they’re more of a plot device than anything else). He also clearly marks out the main villain of the piece (Kiriyama) and allows him free rein to cause carnage.

For example, Chigusa is a minor character. She’s an athlete of sorts. However, the film establishes a relationship between her and Sugimura that is both touching without being pathetic. They’re clearly long-term friends, and also clearly she wishes it were something more. When he eventually finds her bleeding to death and holds her while she dies, his final line to her “you’re the coolest girl I know”, is terribly sad. It’s a superb way of separating and elevating a minor character.

Having said all that, there’s another reason for characterisation rather than exploitation in Battle Royale- each death is designed to shock. These are characters that we are meant to care about, and if we don’t care about them, then their deaths don’t matter. The suicidal couple at the beginning are a prime example. They have very little dialogue, but are obviously killing themselves on a point of principle, and are clearly scared to do so, However, the real impact of violence in this film can be seen in the lighthouse scene. The friends turn on each other based on little or no provocation and a depressing error. They punctuate the paranoia with sharp and snappy individual lines: “What sort of 13 year old is on sleeping pills” being a cracker. The inevitable decimation is brutally shocking. This is unpleasant stuff- we’re not meant to revel in it.

All the  performances are excellent, with particular credit going to Takeshi Kitano as the teacher- in what is probably the least sympathetic character of the lot of them. He’s angry, bitter, isolated, and sick to death of modern youth. His home life is desperate, and he has been completely driven to the end of his tether. It’s a superb performance. I’d also like to single out Mitsuko. She is, and there’s no easy way of saying it: damaged goods. In the Special Edition her background is more expanded on, but she’s an abuse case. She’s also bulleyed by the other kids, who may well be jealous of her. However, she takes on the challenge of slaughtering her  classmates with relish and despite committing some of the messiest murders in the film, she still maintains a certain degree of sympathy. Her final line in particular: “I didn’t want to be a loser any more” is a moment of great pathos, handled brilliantly.

All in all, Battle Royale is a great movie, and the reason I didn’t put it at number one, is that (and I’m going to nitpick- sorry) there’s an abyssal sized plot hole. Ordinarily, I’d let such things slide in a film as otherwise superb as this one, but this is an absolute howler- how, given that the film opens with journalists bombarding the winner of the previous Battle Royale, does nobody in Class B know about it?

Really, though, this is a slightly dickish quibble, but my summary of this film is given by the insane cartoon-like woman explaining the rules: “This one Super Lucky!”

Superb film, but is it wrong to want Mitsuko to win?

Next up is Germany’s The Lives of Others. More misery, I’m afraid.

Until then,

Jarv

I still can’t be bothered to put in all the links, but the top 10 so far is:

10: Tsotsi,

9: WALL-E

8: Daisy

7: The Descent

6: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

5: This is England.

4: Requiem for a Dream

If you haven’t read them, or the regional lists, and are remotely interested they can be found here.

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

39 responses to “Jarv’s Best of 2000-2009. Number 3: Battle Royale”

  1. Droid says :

    I guess I should watch this, but it just seems like far too much hard work. Seeing a bunch of kids killing each other is not my cup of tea.

    Maybe if it starred the cast of High School Musical…

    • Jarv says :

      That is a brilliant idea.

      This is a fucking incredible film Droid.

      Shit, I’ve got to go and edit this, because I’ve just realised I forgot to write about Mitsuko.

      This is what I mean about getting these fucking things done like this- I’m starting to get burnt out with them.

      • Droid says :

        That’s partly why it’s taken me so long to write mine. I’ve watched 4 that I haven’t reviewed yet, but there’s only so much superlatives I can use! But I need to complete them so I’ll post a few over the weekend.

      • Jarv says :

        I want it over with now. Especially seeing as it looks like I’ve gone out of my way to find the most soul destroying films for the list.

        That’s why I throw in a schlock review every few days- break me out of the cycle of actual criticism.

      • Droid says :

        It does appear that you enjoy a heavy dose of self-flagellation.

      • Jarv says :

        I am mostly Scottish after all.

      • Droid says :

        That explains a lot more than just the self-flagellation.

      • Jarv says :

        Yes, the high level of genius, constant inventiveness, and all round excellence.

      • Droid says :

        I was thinking more along the lines of drunkenness, constant irritable nature and all round laziness.

      • Jarv says :

        Yeah, I’m pretty doomed considering my other half is Irish.

        Laziness, Drunkeness, Irritability would be about right.

  2. koutchboom says :

    Yeah droid, this film really isn’t hard to watch at all. Its almost more of an action film then anything else.

  3. Droid says :

    Okay, I’ll take your words for it and put it on the list. I remain skeptical though.

  4. Jarv says :

    I agree that there is black comedy here- the video is hilarious, but I think as the film mounts the comedy lessons- and only really Kiriyama booting that kid’s head through the window with the grenade in his mouth is funny after a certain point, or the attempted Rape of Chigusa (to be fair). Certainly nothing with Shuya in it is remotely funny- ditto Noriko and Mitsuko.

    Also, I always watch the Extended edition- which is much more miserable than the cinema cut.

  5. Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

    Good job Jarv. You’re doing marvelous work with this list. I’ve either posted movie reviews or top ten lists 5 days a week for the past month and it’s been draining so I feel your pain brother.

    You sure do revel in the misery though.

    • Jarv says :

      The thing is, I don’t actually watch that many miserable films- When I did the regions, I was surprised at how fucking glum the top film was in nearly every case- but every time I think they actually are the top film. That’s why 4 of the top 5 are, well, not very cheery.

      I’m nearly there now, though.

      Have you seen Tropa De Elite? If anyone has it’ll be you. It’s going to be my first “underrated” film as no cunt has seen it.

      • Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

        Tropa De Elite? Wow, never even heard of it. But I’ll track it down tonight.

        I’ve seen a lot of depressing movies lately. While some are just plain awful (The Lovely Bones, The Road), others are making it to my top spots (In the Loop, 44 Inch Chest). Not sure if it’s just my current state of mind but the misery feels more welcome now. And frankly, more realistic.

      • Jarv says :

        Tropa is about Rio’s BOPE squad who are basically a death squad that go into the favellas and shoot people.

        It’s a good film- not as good as city of god, but good nonetheless.

      • Droid says :

        In The Loop is depressing? I was sufficiently amused by it.

      • Jarv says :

        Not seen it. Kept meaning to and kept missing it. I like The Thick of it as well.

      • Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

        In the Loop is depressing in that it goes to show how politics works and that in the end greed prevails over morality. It’s a brilliant movie and might actually be my favorite movie of 2009, but that ending is such a downer.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s based very obviously on New Labour and Alastair Campbell (the chipper ready murderous lying cunt) and I’m all for anything that makes them look like the scum they are.

  6. Droid says :

    The truth is, you’re a miserable bastard and misery loves company.

  7. Jarv says :

    Away and shite.

  8. koutchboom says :

    Why does all the cussing I hear from In the Loop sound awfully lame and forced.

  9. koutchboom says :

    You know what’s odd Jarv, is that you hate exploitive stuff like Spun and Saw and what not, but enjoy this. Of course your going to say how this is SOOOO different from them, but not really.

    Though you know whats also odd, is how fun people thrown on an island told to kill each other movies are. (This, No Escape and The Condemend).

  10. koutchboom says :

    You make me wanna watch all these movies again!!! DAMNIT JARV! ITS A NEW DECADE I NEED TO MOVE ON!!!!

  11. ThereWolf says :

    I remember reading the synopsis of Battle Royale when it came out – sounded like a one-note bloodbath to me and never gave it another thought.

    I might’ve been wrong then?

  12. Tom_Bando says :

    *Needs Giant Robots.

    *Needs Ultraman

    *Needs Giant Robot Lions

    *Needs Dr. Cube.

  13. Continentalop says :

    This was my #1 movie from last decade, and nobody was more surprised by that than me.

    What I love about this film is you can find hidden meanings and subtle suggestions in all the characters actions, and you can basically make up your own opinion what something means. I’m not bullshitting when I say I find it has a Godfather level depth to it.

    I once read that a bad film makes you feel nothing, a good film makes you feel what the filmmakers wanted you to feel, and a great film makes you feel how YOU want to feel. By that criteria, BR is a great film.

  14. ThereWolf says :

    Right. Well, I’d better have a look at BR then…

  15. Continentalop says :

    Saw Book of Eli last night, was going to write a review for AIBN but to busy. I’ll just say I was surprised how good it was and how much I liked it…until the 3rd act when it started to get to full of itself. The Book of Eli proves that modern post-apocalyptic movies don’t end with a bang, but unfortunately a whimper.

  16. ThereWolf says :

    Been looking at a ‘Spec Ed’ version of Battle Royale – extra 8 minutes and an alternate ending.

    What’s the story with that?

  17. Tom_Bando says :

    Top Five Cagney flicks:

    White Heat
    Public Enemy
    Angels w/ Dirty Faces
    Yankee Doodle Dandy
    Roaring Twenties

    He is Un-believable in White Heat. Holy shit. I’d never seen this until I bought that gangster set 4 years back. Damn-Nation. I seriously would put his best against anyone else’s, ever. I don’t care.

    Back to your regularily scheduled program.

  18. Continentalop says :

    Bandito, you haven’t seen 13 Rue Madeleine or Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, have you? I liked him in Blood on the Sun and One, Two, Three.

  19. jarv says :

    Koutch- saw 1 and2 aren’t without merit-it’s the rest of them I hate.

    Island films are always fun.

    Wolf- th big difference in the special edition is mitsuko’s background. I can see why it was cut- but I think it really adds to the film.

  20. jarv says :

    Spun on the other side is unspeakable shit

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