I have to admit, I watched this movie for self-righteous reasons.
You see, this 2000 Japanese movie has the same scenario as The Hunger Games – namely, a bunch of teenagers dropped into a remote outpost and forced to kill each other in order to survive – but has cult-movie status. Therefore, I figured, Battle Royale would be better than the Hollywood product that came after, and having watched both I could knowledgeably say, “The Hunger Games? Phah! Have you seen Battle Royale?”
I’m sorry to say, friends, that Battle Royale is a royal piece of shit.
In fact, I would gladly submit to having my eyelids propped open with clothespins and made to watch The Hunger Games for eight hours straight than sit through this piffle a second time.
Battle Royale actually starts off slightly better, however. Where The Hunger Games took forever and a day to get anywhere, the violence starts early in Battle Royale. The Japanese movie doesn’t bother with things like the reason why these forty or so teens have to fight to the death – it gets right into the action.
However, it soon becomes clear that what seems like narrative expediency on the part of Battle Royale‘s filmmakers is actually an early indicator that these guys don’t have a fucking clue.
Nothing makes sense in this movie. Having not read the book, I don’t know if the gaps are filled in, but Battle Royale is full of the kind of behaviour that no relatively normal human would ever engage in, not even under these circumstances. I mentioned that no real reason is given for the central conceit, but this isn’t entirely true; near the beginning of the movie, the kids’ former teacher mentions something about them not respecting adults. However this isn’t ever shown and only vaguely alluded to this once, and anyway it doesn’t jibe with what anything else we see in the movie, especially in the flashbacks.
Oh, and those flashbacks! Good god, what sentimental and tedious rubbish. And they never stop! Even at the end, the movie keeps shoveling more flashbacks at us in an attempt to derive some meaning from the nonsense that has come before.
Even the violence isn’t redemptive. Battle Royale doesn’t shy away from a good Scanners-like head explosion or axe in the skull the way the ultra-squeamish and money-hungry Hunger Games flick does, but the blood and gore isn’t all that shocking or even effective since we don’t give a tinker’s fart about the characters.
And the acting! Whatever the problems The Hunger Games has, at the end of the day it still has Jennifer Lawrence, an actress with the ability to make us care about a piece of toast (essentially, her character in The Hunger Games). But with the exception of veteran Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano (whose character by the way also makes no sense), the performances are uniformly terrible. There’s lots of yelling and screaming and eyeball bulging but not for a second do you believe any of these kids to be in any real danger, never mind fighting for their lives.
Both movies wrap up in totally unsatisfying ways; The Hunger Games isn’t resolved so much as it holds out its hand to take your money for a sequel. Battle Royale gives us a somewhat tidier ending, but it makes little sense in context of the rest of the movie. Neither one, for my money, is worth wasting your time on.