Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Battle Royale, a Japanese SF film

A battle royale, according to my dictionary, is defined as a battle which could be one in which numerous combatants participate or a fight to the finish or an intense altercation.  Battle Royale actually fits all three definitions.

I came across this film, as I have done so many others, by chance, for I had never heard of it until a short time ago.  The SF  book discussion group that I belong to scheduled Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games a few months ago.  After the discussion, I heard that a film was being made of it and would be out soon.  I checked up on it to see what the general reaction to it was. The reviews were, as usual, mixed, but one comment interested me the most.  Essentially the comment was that Battle Royale was a much better film. So, off to Netflix I went.

I haven't seen The Hunger Games yet, so I can't really compare them, but I will say this: if The Hunger Games is more violent and bloody than Battle Royale, then I don't want to watch it.

BR's plot is simple and probably somewhat familiar to those who either read and/or watched T he Hunger Games. It is set in Japan in the near future when the economy has collapsed and unemployment is over 15%.  Violence has become routine, especially among young people.  The Battle Royale Act is passed which allows the government to take any 9th grade class at random and transport them to an island.  There they are issued, randomly, weapons, of varying usefulness.  Some get automatic weapons while others get a GPS tracking device.  Some get swords or knives while others get large pot lids.

In the film, the class selected is 49-B, mostly 15-year-old boys and girls.  They are told that this session will last three days, and at the end of three days, the one person alive is the winner and will be returned to Japan. They are also fitted with collars that can't be removed and have a small explosive charge, sufficient to kill the wearer.  Attempting to remove the collar without the proper tools will  also cause an explosion.  The person doing the briefing, actually a former teacher of this class who had left after one of the students had stabbed him, demonstrates the collar's effectiveness by detonating the collar of one of the more obstreperous youths (it may even have been the one who stabbed him).  If more than one person is alive at the end of the three days, all collars will be detonated, and there will be no winner.   Reports are broadcast regularly informing the students of how many are left and who are the latest to die. One can imagine the psychological effect of that on the survivors.

The definition of battle royale::

numerous combatants:  There are 43 students in the class. After the briefing, only 41 remain, 40 of whom must die within the next three days.

a fight to the finish: only one person can be alive at the end,  or to borrow the title of another film--last student standing.

intense altercation:  These are not strangers trying to survive by killing each other.  These are fellow classmates, some of whom may be their best friends or their worst enemy.  These are young people who know each other and trusted some of them.  Now?  Each hand is turned against the other.  Some try to form self-defense groups, while realizing that only one can be alive at the end. Some seem to enjoy the opportunity to revenge themselves for real or imagined slights.  Others are paralyzed by the situation.  "Intense"  is an understatement.  I found it far more intense than the novel The Hunger Games, but that just might be the effect of a visual presentation in comparison to a verbal one.  I shall have to see The Hunger Games film before I can come to a decision.

For those interested, here are the relevant dates:

Battle Royale:  the film came out in 2000.  The sequel, Battle Royale II, came out in 2003.  BRII, from what I've read, is the story of one of  the survivors who formed a "terrorist" group whose goal was to bring down the government that conducts the battles.  Sound familiar?

The Hunger Games:  the novel was published in 2008, with sequels arriving within the next 2-3 years.

The Hunger Games: the film came out in 2012.

So, if one influenced the other, it's fairly easy to see who influenced whom.

Overall Comments: the focus of the BR film and the Hunger Games novel differs.  In  BR, we see a number of characters all acting with varying motives, whereas in THG, we follow only one character: the rest are strangers mostly and are there to provide the danger to the main character and to die when their time comes.  This was not true in BR, for the viewer comes to know a number of them, so these are not strangers who die, but characters about whom we know something.

It is a violent film, definitely something to consider when deciding to see the film..  


  1. I have been meaning to read the book this movie is based on for a long time. Thanks for sharing the movie with us

  2. mel u,

    I had read the novel behind the film _The Hunger Games_, but I didn't know _Battle Royale_ was also based on a novel. I'm interested in hearing what you think of it.

  3. Battle royal classic Japanese novel. I saw it in the stores here in Manila but the print was very very small as were the line spaces so I did not buy it

  4. mel u,

    Thanks for the information. I shall look around and see if I can locate a copy.

  5. mel u,

    The public library here has copies of the novel _Battle Royale_. There's several ahead of me so I will have to wait a bit.

    Again, thanks for telling me about the novel.