Mar. 07, 2012 - Issue #855: (Re) cycling
The surf booms death for more than one teenager on the island of Battle Royale. This cult hit—Lord of the Flies for a) the Y2K end-of-the-worlder b) the videogamer c) the 21st-century splatter-fan d) the Survivor-meets-The Most Dangerous Game overlap demographic e) all of the above—inspired a Columbine-style pop-cult controversy in Japan when unleashed in 2000. Adapted from Koushun Takami's 1999 novel by director Kinji Fukasaku's 27-year-old son Kenta, the story follows 14-year-olds plunked down on an island to kill each other. Critics decried its teens-gone-wildly-homicidal, but a co-founder of NYC's Asian Film Festival countered, "these are kids ... raised in a sick society by parents who have failed them. I think it is one of the most humane movies ever made."
Battle Royale's dystopia reflects a hyper-tech Japan still deeply concerned with social cohesion and the value-gaps between the generations. At a time of 15 percent unemployment, many parents, through disappearance or suicide, have abandoned their kids to amorality. Adults have made a repressive education system murderously social-Darwinist. Each year, a middle-school class is chosen to in-fight on an island until one student's left. (Recently, the blockbuster teen-series The Hunger Games has been attacked for its similarities to Battle Royale.)
The latest unlucky group's gassed on a bus, electronic-tagged and bomb-collared, transported to the battlezone and given a random weapon. Kitano, their bitter, childishly twisted Grade 7 teacher, launches the game: "Today's lesson is, you kill each other off." (Ingeniously, Takeshi Kitano is Kitano, playing off his image as a vengeful Yakuza boss or chief cop in '90s films.) The desperate gorefest that ensues is often soap-operatic, mushy-romantic and farcical, but relieved by some tender loyalties, false friendships and shrewd tactics. With each death appears the victim's name and the number of kids left, but the long-rumoured Hollywood remake could better implicate we bloodthirsty reality-TV-viewers by giving us kill-scorecards to tick off who's gone. Because it's the movie's disturbingly dark social frame, not its bloody canvas, that makes this a battle worth watching.
Fri, Mar 9 (11:30 pm)
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Originally released: 2000
Metro Cinema at The Garneau
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