Battle Royale (2000)
Director – Kinji Fukasaku
Screenwriter – Kenta Fukasaku (Kinji’s son)
Running Time – 114 min; 122 min (Director’s Cut)
Released – 16 December 2000
Budget – US $4.5 Million (estimated)
Gross – US $30 Million (approximately)
Novel – Koushun Takami – April 1999
Manga Series – Koushun Takami, Masayuki Taguchi – November 2000
Tagline – One dead. 41 to go.
[See IMDb ‘s Battle Royale page if you don’t think I’m already being WAAYY too goddamn thorough.]
In near-future Japan, a desperate government, in an attempt to curb juvenile delinquency, passes the BR Act. Once every year, a ninth grade class is chosen by lottery from the Japanese population, drugged and brought to a deserted island, where the wake up wearing irremovable metal collars. They are told that they have 3 days to kill each other. The last remaining student gets to go home alive. If more than one student is left alive after three days, the collars explode and they all die. Each student is given a survival kit and a unique weapon. The weapons range from assault rifle to pot lid and everywhere in between. Takeshi Kitano stars as Kitano, the host of the game.
Kinji Fukasaku was almost 70 when he made Battle Royale, his 60th film, and it would end up being his last completed project. He was working on Battle Royale II: Requiem in 2003 when he died of prostate cancer. As the story goes, he was diagnosed as a terminal patient during pre-production for BRII and, ignoring doctors’ advice to seek treatment, decided to start production. He died after directing one scene with Takeshi Kitano and his son, Kenta, finished directing the film.
Throughout his prolific career, Fukasaku worked in a number of genres, including science fiction, war drama, jidaigeki (period/costume drama) and most notably, the yakuza gangster drama. His films include: the Japanese sequences of Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), The Yakuza Papers film series (5 feature-length crime dramas produced between 1973 and 1974), Samurai Reincarnation (1981) starring Sonny Chiba (with whom he collaborated frequently), and Crest of Betrayal or: Loyal 47 Ronin: Yotsuya Ghost Story (1995), which won two Japan Academy Prizes for Best Film and Best Director (Fukusaku’s 3rd win in each category). He was also responsible for directing an English-language film called The Green Slime (1968), which ended up being the first film featured on the cult TV series, Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
He served as the chairman of the Directors’ Guild of Japan from 1996 until his death in 2003. 
With a substantial budget (US $4.5 Million) and a well-established director, the film was going to be “big.” The novel had already caused something of a controversy a year and a half previous. And the first edition of the Battle Royale manga series released a month previous to the film served only to increase anticipation of the cinematic release.
The result was an immediate dichotomy. It was both wildly popular and vehemently derided by the populace, the critics, and the parliament. After members of parliament were shown a pre-release screening of the film, it was labeled “crude and tasteless” and became something of a rally point for those concerned about more government intervention in media violence. 
Despite some extremely vocal dissenters to the film, it was also acclaimed by audiences and critics for its peculiar success in blending campy, exploitative ultra-violence with biting satire and social criticism. It was incredibly successful in Japan, winning the 2001 Blue Ribbon Award for Best Film, and garnering nine Japan Academy Prize nominations (winning three). It grossed over ¥3 Billion (approx. US $30 Million) in Japan and became an international cult hit.
It was rated R15 in Japan (i.e. suitable only for those over the age of 15). Fukasaku originally opposed this rating on the grounds that most of his actors were 15 or younger. However, when the Diet of Japan (the Japanese legislature) called the film “harmful to teenagers” and began to criticize the film industry’s self-regulated rating system, Fukasaku dropped his complaint. Contrary to popular belief, the film was not banned in the United States, it just simply never received any sort of distribution deal. (It did, however, play at both the Cleveland and Seattle Film Festivals in 2001.) For a number of years after its release, it was available only on bootlegged video cassette from the Internet or in Chinese video stores. Eventually, it was picked up by a distributor in the UK and made its way to DVD. A Director’s Cut was released in 2004 with extended flashbacks, three epilogues, and additional CGI. And finally, last week, received its American DVD-BluRay release (March 20, 2012). One of the most effective voices lauding the film was Quentin Tarantino, who describes Battle Royale as “my favorite movie of all time.” He paid his own little homage to Battle Royale, by casting Chiaki Kuriyama (Takako Chigusa) as Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003).
Underneath the film’s exploitative ultra-violence and camp aesthetic, critics have attempted to divine what sort of satire or social commentary was intended with the film, and whether or not it was effective.
Battle Royale, at its heart, is a violent film that opposes violence. In a self-reflexive, somewhat self-defeating manner, it exploits the audience’s fixation with violence in order to condemn it. This is a very consciously inept strategy, to be sure. We watch it for the violence and we simultaneously revel in its glory and are condemned for doing so.
We also watch Battle Royale because it is a movie that Hollywood would never dare to make. Despite Hollywood’s propensity for violence, a movie about children killing each other would never get studio approval. NY Times critic Robert Ito writes “In post-Columbine America…audiences weren’t ready to watch 14-year-olds — even cute ones in stylish school uniforms — maiming and killing one another with axes, crossbows and automatic weapons.”  The newly-released Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy (that bears striking similarities to Battle Royale), may prove Robert Ito wrong, but its PG-13 rating will likely restrain the violence to a more, shall we say… palatable level.
Some saw the film as “an underlying portrait of parental neglect.”  The protagonist, Shyuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is the son of a mother who has abandoned him and a father who has committed suicide. One of the film’s deadliest girls, Mitsuko (Kô Shibasaki), was victim to an alcoholic mother who accepted money from men to use her daughter sexually. Others saw it as an early criticism (or even a presage) of the phenomenon of Reality TV (Survivor’s first season was in 2000).
There is also a very obvious correlation between the literally cutthroat competitiveness of the Battle Royale and the figuratively cutthroat competitiveness of the Japanese education system. The first nine grades in Japan are compulsory and publicly funded. Advancement from one grade to the next is generally assured if the student attends. However, after Grade 9, the schools become privately funded and acceptance to a reputable secondary school helps ensure acceptance to a reputable university. Students compete for placement in prestigious schools through nation-wide examinations, and competition is fierce. As Anthony Leong points out, writing for Asian Cult Cinema, “it is no coincidence that the students picked to play Battle Royale are in the ninth grade.” 
One point of criticism for a number of reviewers is the essential lack of impetus for the Japanese government’s excessive response to juvenile delinquency. The film begins with a short text introduction about the economic collapse of Japan, high unemployment, 800,000 youths boycotting school, and soaring youth crime rates. In such an atmosphere, “the adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act.” The novel apparently goes into much greater detail regarding the atmosphere of this fictional Japan, beginning with a WWII victory for Japan and the eventual decline of Japanese society. Leong declares this to be “part of the problem” with Battle Royale: its “greater emphasis on exploitation than examination.” 
The film also becomes an emotionally engaging study of teenage culture. The audience wonders why adults are so frightened of these “delinquent youth” when most of them conform to well-known high school stereotypes. You can laugh at the absurdity of the Battle Royale’s plot device, but once engaged with the characters, you can’t help but take their situation seriously. Passionate performances from almost all of the students make the film enjoyable and, eerily enough, believable. Robert Koehler writes that “the notion that girlish cliques can go John Woo on each other is one of the movie’s funniest, darkest jokes.”  And casting Takeshi Kitano (aka Beat Takeshi, a Renaissance man of Japanese cinema), renaming his character “Kitano,” and having him play a what amounts to a parallel universe version of himself was a stroke of genius on Fukasaku’s part. Kitano is at once terrifying, deadpan funny, and full of pathos.
Battle Royale is a film that elicited many varied responses from many different people. To some it is, for good or bad, simply exploitative, violent entertainment. To others, it is a social commentary on Japanese society, media and/or education. And it is an engaging morality play and character study. It is all of these things. Whether or not you enjoy the camp aesthetic and whether or not you think the satire is effective is where discussion of this film can really take off. And, as a director, that is exactly what you want. Discuss.
“I immediately identified with the 9th graders in the novel, Battle Royale. I was fifteen when World War II came to an end. By then, my class had been drafted and was working in a munitions factory. In July 1945, we were caught up in artillery fire. Up until then, the attacks had been air raids and you had a chance of escaping from those. But with artillery, there was no way out. It was impossible to run or hide from the shells that rained down. We survived by diving for cover under our friends.
After the attacks, my class had to dispose of the corpses. It was the first time in my life I’d seen so many dead bodies. As I lifted severed arms and legs, I had a fundamental awakening … everything we’d been taught in school about howJapanwas fighting the war to win world peace, was a pack of lies. Adults could not be trusted.
The emotions I experienced then–an irrational hatred for the unseen forces that drove us into those circumstances, a poisonous hostility towards adults, and a gentle sentimentality for my friends–were a starting point for everything since. This is why, when I hear reports about recent outbreaks of teenage violence and crimes, I cannot easily judge or dismiss them.
This is the point of departure for all my films. Lots of people die in my films. They die terrible deaths. But I make them this way because I don’t believe anyone would ever love or trust the films I make, any other way.
BATTLE ROYALE, my 60th film, returns irrevocably to my own adolescence. I had a great deal of fun working with the 42 teenagers making this film, even though it recalled my own teenage battleground.” – Kinji Fukasaku