Before beginning to watch Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale, I anticipated that it would be an exploitation film, a B-movie, and indeed it is, but it is also one of those rare works that succeeds at transcending the limitations of its genre.
The young actors are almost all wonderful and convincing, and the ordeals of their characters in a horrifying and bizarre situation are well handled. Some students commit suicide rather than kill anyone. Others kill with abandon. Some try to find ways to survive from moment to moment. Others attempt to escape from the island, and so on. Recognizing a variety of human reactions, the viewer is easily able to respond emotionally to these persons, whether his reaction is one of sympathy, horror, fear, or wrath.
In fact, though Battle Royale may be a B-movie, its emotive impact is comparable to that of no other such film of which I am aware. Its evocations of the horrors of human cruelty are more reminiscent of those in Pasolini's Salò than of anything I have encountered in any other exploitation movie. Although it is not of the same caliber as Pasolini's film, Battle Royale does come surprisingly close at times. It is almost always profoundly moving.
Like Salò, Battle Royale is a difficult movie to watch. While I am glad that I have seen it, I cannot say that I have any desire to see it again. The acts of violence depicted are disturbing, and the willingness of the film's adults to do harm to the children, as well as some of the children's willingness to participate in their own victimization, are even more so. Thanks to the skill with which the director brings these various elements to life, I was left deeply saddened and genuinely shaken by the plight of the movie's characters.
By so showing man's capacities for cruelty and compassion, Fukasaku is able to arouse in the viewer feelings of horror, ferocity, and sympathy, which make watching the film a memorable, affecting experience. The B-movie plot, which is shallowly submerged beneath the director's study of such capacities, and which provides the mechanism by which he both explores these themes and evokes an emotional response in the viewer, does, however, at the same time, distract the viewer from those themes and so detracts from the movie's quality.
Battle Royale's limitations keep it from being a masterpiece, but it is a powerful work, nonetheless. It is certainly worth seeing.
Review by Keith Allen
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