Horror Bingo 2022: Battle Royale

Horror Bingo continues! Today we go back to an old favorite, a movie I have not watched for a very long time: Battle Royale.

It’s violent, it’s weird, it doesn’t always make much sense . . . but I still enjoy this one.

Year: 2000
Director: Fukasaku Kinji
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Streaming Service: None, actually – Director’s Cut DVD
Spoilers: Absolutely all of them
Grade: Vanilla

I’ve reviewed Battle Royale before, almost 10 years ago now, and it seems that—by and large—my general impressions have not changed. It’s possible they could, however, should I check out one of the more updated versions with, presumably, better subtitles. The copy we own is an import from several years before Battle Royale was even legally distributed in the US, and some of the English translations are, well, a bit questionable. I’d be interested in seeing if a newer copy provided ultimately the same viewing experience, or if it might instead clarify a few story elements. For example . . .

Here’s the basic plot of Battle Royale: kids are running wild in Japan, boycotting school and doing whatever the hell they want, so the government passes a law mandating that every year the students in one 9th grade class are forced  to kill one another until there’s only one survivor. Presumably, this is to scare future kids into behaving, which is why it’s extremely weird that none of our 9th graders seem to even know this law exists. (Especially because we see journalists reporting on a previous game at the beginning of the film.) Is this a plot hole? Something literally lost in translation? I wish I could remember how the book addresses this, but it’s been about 20 years since I read it. Also confusing: why is the class’s hilariously spiteful ex-teacher in charge of this military operation, anyway? Don’t get me wrong: I love Beat Takeshi’s performance in this movie, but I’m not convinced that turning Kitano into their ex-teacher makes much logical sense. Also: the dream sequences. They’re interesting, but also what?

The final survivors in Battle Royale are Shuya and Noriko, which is both predictable and deeply unfortunate, as Shuya is righteous, annoying, and utterly useless, and Noriko is useless, boring, and—in one scene—assumes that Shuya’s the person approaching for God knows what reason and rushes out to meet him. The only reason Noriko lives is because Kitano has this weird, creepy thing for her and randomly pops up to save her ass. (Hilariously, another kid later will also rush straight towards a killer, assuming it’s Shuya, but this kid isn’t so lucky: Kitano doesn’t give a shit about him.) And it’s not that I need Shuya and Noriko to be badass types, exactly, but it’d be nice if they did something useful; instead, they both have to be repeatedly saved, healed, and looked after the entire film. Even Shuya’s Big Moment where he kills Kitano is pretty pathetic. I mean . . .

Okay, I actually adore this scene because every single thing about it is hilarious. Shuya saying, “I made a promise to protect Noriko,” with such conviction, like he didn’t just protect her from a fucking water pistol. Kitano’s absolutely wild artwork (that Beat Takeshi apparently made himself—my God, what a legend) with Holy Noriko standing in the middle of about 40 extremely dead kids. Kitano suddenly getting back to his feet and having one last phone call and cookie before abruptly dying again. Shogo’s absolutely perfect WTF face to every single WTF thing around him. This scene is a thing of goddamn beauty.

Other stuff I enjoy:

Chigusa Takako (Kuriyama Chiaki) killing that one asshole is the most badass scene, and I’m always really sad when her character dies. (Other tragic moments: Hiroki and Kayoko’s deaths—Hiroki, man, I get that you’re stressed, but you can’t just be rushing in like that!) The lighthouse scene is also pretty great. I really like a lot of the supporting players, especially Shibasaki Ko as Mitsuko and Yamamoto Taro as Shogo. Ando Masanobu as Kazuo is a lot of fun, too, and I remain obsessed with his hair. Also, Miyamura Yuko as the peppy Video Instructions Girl. (Kitano’s responses to the video are especially hilarious.) The violence is extremely bloody and over the top. Nobu’s Foreshadow Picture of Explode-y Doom will never not make me laugh. I also really enjoy some of the dramatic score (I’m listening to “The Killers” right now, as a matter of fact), punctuated by the occasional bit of equally dramatic Western classical music.

There are a few things that don’t quite work for me. I still wish Shinji had more screen time, and I don’t like how his actual death scene is shot. Kazuo’s death, too, feels pretty anticlimactic, and the fact that Shogo just hacked the collars ahead of time feels a little bit silly. Also, Mitsuko’s flashback feels misplaced—although I do actually like Tiny Mitsuko herself! And of course, Noriko and Shuya are just very meh.

Overall, though, I’ve got a lot of nostalgia for this once very widely banned film, and I still had a pretty good time watching it—even if I will always weep for Chigusa Takako. You were the absolute best.

Next Up: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror

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