A scene from BATTLE ROYALE, directed by Fukasaku Kinji for Toei Inc.

Battle Royale (2000, Fukasaku Kinji), the director’s cut

Battle Royale has to be seen to be believed. It shouldn’t work–a film about teenagers killing each other (under a government mandated law) played as a sweeping melodrama, but it does. It’s somehow brilliant, all thanks to director Fukasaku. The action takes place on this tropical island and Fukasaku fills it with beautiful shots and beautiful music (Strauss, Verdi, Schubert, Bach) and it feels peaceful. Not even the violence can ripple the calm the film presents.

The story’s high concept in a lot of ways and the film never deals with it (there’s a major plot hole because of that avoidance), instead, it’s this overblown teen movie. It’s the teen melodrama taken to the nth degree–this film (which is a comedy a lot of the time) is the one John Hughes never could have made. Apparently there’s going to be an American version at some point. I can’t even imagine how neutered it’s going to be (or would be, I can’t believe it’ll get made).

The acting in the film is solid, without any real standouts. It wouldn’t work with standouts. Yamamoto Tarô is probably the closest thing to one, just because he’s got the fullest role. In some ways he’s the main character, but not really. The film takes itself incredibly seriously and Fukasaku never lets the violence get fetishized. Given the film’s ludicrous proposition, it’s singular he was able to pull it off.

The conclusion has ups and downs and then finishes on a big up.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Fukasaku Kinji; screenplay by Fukasaku Kenta, based on the novel by Takami Koushun; director of photography, Yanagijima Katsumi; edited by Abe Hirohide; music by Amano Masamichi; production designer, Heya Kyôto; produced by Fukasaku Kenta, Fukasaku Kinji, Kataoka Kimio, Kobayashi Chie, Nabeshima Toshio and Okada Masumi; released by Toei Company.

Starring Fujiwara Tatsuya (Shuya), Maeda Aki (Noriko), Yamamoto Tarô (Kawada), Shibasaki Kou (Mitsuko), Ando Masanobu (Kiriyama), Kuriyama Chiaki (Chigusa), Takaoka Sosuke (Sugimura), Tsukamoto Takashi (Mimura) and Kitano Takeshi (the teacher).

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