Jacob Latimore, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett star in director Kasi Lemmons' seasonal drama.
On Film4: 17 Dec 11:00AM
Bizarre and often brilliant Japanese film about a class of school children put on an island and forced to fight to the death. Features Takeshi Kitano as the ex-teacher compere
This is a different kind of high school movie. It does all the things other teen movies do: the Japanese teens in Battle Royale have painful crushes on each other, try to look cool and don't trust the adults. But they have also been drugged and placed on an island and told to kill each other. In this alternative Japan, social cohesion has broken down so far that the government has passed the Battle Royale Act, and, as a symbolic punishment, one school class a year has to fight down to a final winner. And if more than one person is left alive, all the survivors die (thanks to the charming device of explosive collars round their necks).
But even that extreme premise doesn't capture the tone of Battle Royale. It's a film that veers between murderous slapstick and typically Japanese cornball sentimentality. One of the tricky things about it is knowing how seriously to take the love-conquers-all moral - even as we race through the deaths of dozens of kids.
In Japan, where the establishment is deeply worried about a disaffected generation that has grown up during a decade long economic crisis, they are taking the film very seriously. But with its broad, brutal comedy, the comparison that springs to mind is A Clockwork Orange, equally seen as a portent of doom at the time but looking more like pantomime now. Battle Royale isn't fascinating because of what it might be saying, but because it takes its intriguingly extreme set up and makes a fast, weird and very funny film out of it.
A wonderfully exciting, incredibly idiosyncratic actioner.
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