Is the question put before 42 Japanese school children, minutes after waking up from being put to sleep and minutes before they will fight in a bloody battle to the death. Seconds after the children learn their probable fate, they are greeted with a video. An upbeat video, the sort of video you would expect at a McDonalds induction day, but this video explains the rules of the 'game'.
"No whispering" the sadistic teacher exclaims, before launching a flick knife into the forehead of one unlucky girl. As you would expect, the class react with shock, one child saying in surprise "It's really real", another child finds out first hand the use for the dog collars around their necks. After the video and the weapons are given out, there are many different reactions to the situation, as you might expect. Some of the youngsters try to become revolutionaries and stop the violence, others refuse to fight, choosing suicide over murder and some accept the situation and fight for their survival.
From here on out, the adrenaline fuelled violence is thick and fast, within the first minute of the game starting, one girl approaches the screen with an arrow through her neck, asking her former friend "What is this?" seconds after, her crossbow wielding attacker screams his way out of the bushes, only to be taken down less than a minute later by another class mate.
The build up to the Battle Royale is some of the best I've ever seen. The story is put up on the screen against a backdrop of computer animation and then it switches to a journalist reporting on a previous Battle Royale, "The winner is a girl" she exclaims, "She's smiling, she smiling" She continues as the girl in the back of the truck gives a sick smile, reminiscent of what she just went through. By this point I was wondering if the rest of the film would stand up to the intro, it sure did.
The plot, as you might expect is a little silly. The economy in Japan has gone down the pan, 15% of people are unemployed and many schoolchildren are boycotting their schools, as the message on the board reads "Not coming cos we don't feel like it". So what do Japan do to thwart this economic depression? Lower interest rates! No. Create more jobs! No. Make truancy against the law! no, no, no. This is Japan. Those crazy Japs decide to pass the new 'Battle Royale act'. An act in which a class of children, chosen by an impartial lottery is put on an island, to fight to the death. Of course, this is unrealistic but what it does do is show the authorities will to create law and order, and the younger generation's compulsion to rebel against it, which also brings in the philosophical argument of the alienation between older and younger people. It is this whole deepness to the film that a lot of people will unfortunately miss due to the large amounts of violence.
But, the main aspect of Battle Royale is the will to survive, and also the will for the survival of your loved ones, which is personified through the character of one of the 'exchange' students (cant remember his name...the good one). A person who is on the island, after surviving a previous Battle Royale, and also being forced to kill his girlfriend, for his own survival (one of the rules - only one survivor). This character talks about the way his girlfriend smiled, and thanked him after he shot her, and how he thought they could both survive.
This film has lots of characters, 43 of them in fact. So, obviously not all of them are given a chance to develop, but the ones that are develop beautifully. The film uses flash backs for various characters, which helps the audience to see why certain characters act how they do. Such as the 'exchange' student who spares the life of our hero's, Nanahara and his girlfriend. At first this may seem silly, as anyone in the game can kill you, but it comes into perspective when we learn he himself survived a Battle Royale and the two reminded him of himself and his girlfriend.
This film only really has one other film which it can be compared to, and that film would be Stanley Rubric's, A Clockwork Orange. The most notable thing that has been borrowed from that film is the ultra violence which is set to a beautiful classical soundtrack. And secondly the whole moral debate which surrounds each one, the free will argument in Clockwork Orange and the will to survive in this film.
The ending is one of only two things that I would criticise this film on, the little twist at the end was nice and it showed where the characters went next, but the way they tacked on the 'requiem' sequences, I felt was unnecessary as they could have been put in the film elsewhere, or even better, not at all. The other criticism would be the way that some of the film was over dramatic, such as the part where the teacher showed the survivors the (sick) picture he drew of the Battle Royale.
Anyway, despite its minor imperfections this film receives top marks from me. There isn't many films that will over step the mark and go a little further, but Battle Royale does just that. A masterpiece
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