With the recent release of the Hunger Games sequel, it seems fitting to feature a cult classic that may have been the inspiration for that series: “Battle Royale”. Released in 2000, it was Kinji Fukasaku’s final film, a director previously best known for his “Battles Without Honor and Humanity” series of Yakuza films. Kinji died of cancer shortly after filming the first scene of the sequel, “Battle Royale 2: Requiem”, which was completed by his son Kenta in 2003. Battle Royale takes place in a dystopian society whose government regularly forces a class of high school students to participate in a deathmatch on a small island until just one survivor is left. Each student is given a bag containing food, water, a compass, a map of the island, and a randomly selected weapon. The students are also outfitted with surveillance collars that can track their movements and detonate if they wander into “danger zones” or refuse to cooperate.
Though the film is at times physically and emotionally brutal, it works effectively as a parable for the way youth are cynically manipulated by society and the different approaches people take dealing with tyranny. When Kinji Fukasaku first read the novel his film was based on, it resonated with him because of traumatic personal experiences. As he related in a Director’s statement for Battle Royale:
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 how Japan was 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.
Watch the full film here.