If anything else, Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale is timely. Fukasaku capitalizes on the fear of children in contemporary Japanese society and savages it. Adults in this film are portrayed as petty and sadistic (such as Kitano), craven and selfish (as in Shuya's father who kills himself in a flashback), or simply absent. Instead of being given love, these teens are literally thrown into the wilderness and told to fend for themselves. To his credit, Fukasaku keeps the social commentary light and the film funny --surprising, given its subject matter. The film juxtaposes animalistic bloodletting with crushes, schoolyard cliques, and other cliches of teendom. Fukasaku also populates Battle with images that simply radiate with a certain pungent absurdism. The Battle Royale instructional video, for example, features an announcer sporting punky hair, a nose ring, bangled arms, and the grindingly sunny disposition of an airport stewardess on Ecstasy. The satirical elements of Battle Royale, however, lie uneasily alongside the inherent horror of the characters' predicament -- having to kill one's best friends in order to survive -- giving the film an oddly ambiguous tone. The result is that the viewer is unclear as to exactly how to react to the work; laughter often dies in one's throat. Perhaps because of the terrific darkness that Fukasaku evokes through the film's mid-section, Battle Royale's dénouement feels too pat and easy. Nothing short of a brisk march into the abyss would feel appropriate. Though not a work for Andy Griffith fans or Sound of Music enthusiasts, Battle Royale is a fascinating, disturbing film that will in turns make viewers laugh, jump, and cringe.
by Jonathan Crow review