No 235 - Battle Royale
Director - Kinji Fukasaku
I am really quite hungover from an epic night out at the marvellous Shunt Lounge, and have not had much sleep. I'm telling you this because I have a guilty confession to make, I fell asleep during Battle Royale. But I was ruddy hungover and had a massive Sunday lunch which was making me dead sleepy.
Luckily it was only a brief little snooze and I have seen BR sufficient times for me to be able to talk about it. So here goes...
I know that I have said before that I'm not a fan of the old hyper-violence and I am also aware of the intrinsically hypocritical nature of my quick to change attitude. So, whilst the nature of films like Ichi the Killer, Saw and Hostel freak me out, I bloody love BR and its glorious ridiculous violence.
This can be best described with one of my favourite characters in the film, Boy #6, Kizuo Kiriyama. He is an nut job, volunteering to be part of the BR scheme and relishing the torture, violence and mayhem which follows him. As the film progresses he becomes even more unhinged and ends up the most visually iconic character in the film (he is one of only two combatants that aren't in the beige-ish school uniform). Here he is looking like he could have been in Michael Jackson's Thriller.
In fact, it is the cold, relentless, somewhat insane killers which make this film the most enjoyable. After watching the gloriously depraved Kiriyama, the other character of note is Girl #13 Takako Chigusa. She immediately understands the way to play the game and uses the fact that nobody liked her at school as a reason to feel no guilt in cold heartedly murdering them all. Chiaki Kuriyama's performance is excellent, and was certainly deemed good enough by Quentin Tarantino who cast her as Gogo (a psychopathic killing machine with an arsenal of deadly weapons and wearing school uniform.... could we be slipping into typecasting?) in Kill Bill.
As well as the violence there is a strong streak of VERY black humour. The jaunty music that greets the competitors each morning jars with the events on screen in a grossly inappropriate way. The sheer concept of the film is so perverse, so ridiculous that it almost demands to be viewed in a comedic light. And most of the truly comedic moments come from the juxtaposition of how BR is presented, and what BR is.
Let us begin with the Battle Royale training video, which is there to teach the class how to play and kill efficiently whilst keeping themselves alive. The video is bright and jolly with an unfeasibly cute narrator in the form of Yûko Miyamura explaining what will be happening on the island. Whether she is explaining that the competitor's neckbands may explode and kill you or that the selection of weapons is a completely random lucky dip ranging from saucepans to grenade launchers, she speaks with a constant smile and the hyperactivity of a puppy on speed. It is impossible not to like her as she passes on the terrible terrible news. And that is quite funny.
The other comedic character to mention is the school's teacher - played by Takeshi Kitano and named, conveniently enough, Kitano Sensei. His character is really rather insane and quite possibly a paedophile as he sits watching his school kids kill each other in all shades of dead.
His best moment is when he is trying to explain the BR situation to his school children and gets increasingly pissed off as they talk over him, ending up throwing a dagger into the face of one of the school kid, ending with a sarcastic apology as he isn't meant to kill any of them.
The film is shot in in a very grey and brown palette which only helps to bring out the crimson lashings of blood even more so.
There are several 'Japanese' bonkers moments - the whole incident with the painting at the end is never really explained and it also gives some interesting insights into how Japanese school kids function (in Japan - having a crush on someone or telling someone their cute has a lot more weighting than it does in the Western world).
All in all this film is a glorious riot of blood and ridiculous violence which spawned a god awful sequel (allegedly - I've never seen it) and some really awesome T-Shirts.
I even watched this with my mum once and she enjoyed it. I mean she thought it was disgusting and spent most of the film hiding her eyes. But she wanted to know who won. And that is a key part in the success of a film.