Please forgive the tardiness of this post. When you mix in the fact that I had to take the dreaded GRE’s yesterday and add on top of it the FIFA World Cup match between Belgium and the USA… A mix of fried brain and proper inebriation was enough to keep me from writing anything substantial last night. But it is okay, because today I will be talking about a foreign film. Oh yes, you can feel the pretentious wave flooding over you, can’t you? But fear not. This pretentious foreign film just happens to be the movie that preceded the popular Suzanne Collins’ stories of The Hunger Games only with less political intrigue and more violence and sexual deviation. This isn’t the first time I have talked about my favorite manga and one of my favorite books, I wrote a post a while back analyzing both The Hunger Games and Battle Royale (Which you can read here). For today, I feel like talking about the also popular film that was based on the popular series.
Staying true to the source material, Battle Royale is the story of a more Imperialized Japan in which in order to maintain peace, the government instituted the Battle Royale Act. An act meant to select one class at random from the countries 9th grade classes who would then be forced to fight to the death in a gladiatorial style combat until a victor is crowned. Simple math forty-two minus forty-one. The class chosen is of course the one that contains our unfortunate protagonists. The students are sent out onto an island to fight to the death. After watching his friend die without managing to lift a finger to stop them, our main protagonist Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) vows to protect his friend’s love interest Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda). They meed up with an enigmatic transfer student named Shogo Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) who tells them he knows a way off the island. Together the three attempt to stay alive while their friends kill each other one by one.
When it comes to the feel of the movie… There is no doubt, this movie feels and looks exactly how I would picture The Program to look like in live action. The suspense, the horrible reality of impending doom, the home rooms, and the gruesome deaths. This movie has the whole package and it is shot amazingly well. While I may have some concerns with this movie, the look and feel of it certainly is not one of them.
Too Many Characters To Fully Flesh Out
It is simple, with forty-two players and a teacher as major characters, you simply do not have the time to build great character development with the two hours that the film gives. Granted a lot of the smaller character’s back stories are completely cut to save time and that is understandable. But even with the smaller character’s story cut we still do not get strong back stories for the main characters either. Kiriyama’s tragic story is simplified to a person who just wanted to play for fun and we will talk more about that in a second, Sugimura’s martial arts background is cut, and we only get small snippets of the other characters back story. The film has to get 40+ people killed in two hours that I feel like a lot is lost in translation from book to film.
I’m not saying this isn’t an impossible feat, but two hours simply is not enough. This film would best if it were either created into a trilogy or made into an anime. As a two-hour film though, you simply lose too much of what is a great story.
I won’t harp on the movie too hard for having some lack luster effects when it comes to blood and kills. They worked with what they could with the $4.5 million dollar budget that was given. Though sometimes I would have liked to have seen more than fake blood smeared on an undamaged shirt to symbolize a gunshot wound. But the area where the movie tends to fall flat is the acting. While some of the actors do an admirable or even passable job, for the most part a lot of them are just not strong actors. I’m looking more towards are two main leads who play Shuya and Noriko. Although I will agree that playing a character like Noriko is a little difficult, seeing as how her only real purpose in the movie was to be a person to protect for Shuya, but Aki Maeda simply doesn’t bring anything to the role. She seems little more than a prop that follows either Kawada or Shuya around from Point A to Point B without emoting any sense of fear or sadness at the concept of their friends having to kill each other or her best friend Megumi being murdered.
Tatsuya Fujiwara is also to blame for opposite reasons. The man brings no subtlety to the role. Any time he needs to act scared or mad he seems to go from zero to over 9000 in less than a second as he mugs at the camera. But the one that I give the most flack to is Masanobu Ando who plays Kiriyama. I’m not sure if it was more of the directing of the film or Ando himself, but the way he portrays Kiryama seems to be the antithesis of what I see the Kiriyama character to be. Now granted, this changes due to the fact that in the book he is a part of the class and suffered brain trauma leading to his sociopathic nature while in the movies he is seen as someone who signed up for fun. The way I have always seen Kiryama is a cold, calculating, monster. Even if he signs up for fun I do not expect in emotion in him. Just a lifeless killing machine on par with The Terminator. Instead, Ando plays it off as a person who takes great joy in killing. He smiles and seems chipper at the idea. As I said, I’m not sure if it is more to fault of Ando or to the directing, but I do not enjoy it.
While the other actors do a decent job. The girl who plays Mitsuko Souma, Kou Shibasaki is absolutely terrifying and the two that play Sugimura and Mimura (Sosuke Takaoka and Takashi Tsukamoto) are good as well. But on the whole they are not enough to save what is a major flaw of this film.
While ambitious and a very popular movie, I sadly cannot get behind it like other fans of the series do. Battle Royale does not lack in ambition. Director Kinji Fukasaku did make a strong attempt to capture the essence of the book and the manga without changing a great deal of the source material. However, 42+ characters to adequately flesh out is just too much of a daunting task. Even if the back stories of the other characters are cut (which they were), I still felt that I did not get enough back story on the major characters like Kiriyama, Mitsuko, Sugimura, Mimura, and even the three main characters. Battle Royale is a story that would best translated into an anime than it would a movie and sadly this one shows. That being said, it is still worth the watch, if anything to see an enjoyable movie.
Final Score 2.5/5
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