Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kinji Fukasaku's BATTLE ROYALE finally hits a U.S. theater--in New York City, at least....

For all those movie fans who were appalled by the deadly dull, soporific Hunger Games -- who may have wondered why anyone would create a story like this (children forced to fight to the death by their society) and then pull every single last punch so that a tale this horren-dous is rendered fodder for feel-good soap-opera -- well, the answer is upon us. Its title? BATTLE ROYALE.

This incredible, and incredibly difficult-to-watch, movie  came about at the turn of this past millennium and was immediately judged too horrific to be viewed by American audiences (as well as those in some other western countries). Directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku, shown at left) with a screenplay by the filmmaker's son Kenta (from the novel by Koushun Takami), the film posits a society on the brink of collapse that, when it's young people misbehave, takes a pack of randomly chosen kids off to a deserted island and forces them to fight to the death. Sounds familiar, huh? I think there is no way in hell that Hunger Games novelist Suzanne Collins and the people behind the filmed version of her trilogy had not heard of (maybe even read) the original Battle Royale novel and/or seen its filmed version -- before putting together their own watered-down mix (yeah, but it got a PG-13 from our obtuse ratings board!).

TrustMovies finally caught up with Battle Royal on DVD back in 2005 (via Netflix) and was properly shocked. He didn't love the movie. It's too horrible for that kind of response, but he certainly admired its premise and follow-through. It's a dark work -- figuratively and literally -- with lots of night scenes (that I understand come to life much better on the Blu-ray version, which I hope will eventually find its way here). It's bloody, too -- and garish, in its ice-cold manner. Perhaps the most difficult thing about it is witnessing how these so many of these children lose all sense of kindness, and consequently humanity -- something that The Hunger Games doesn't come near.

Apoplexy and paranoia run rampant here as the craziness mounts and everything from coat-hangers to pots and their lids become weapons of choice. As we grow into the mindset of these kids gone berserk, thing go from worst to beyond. When I saw the film I was unfamiliar with any of the cast members -- save Takeshi Kitano, below, center, who plays their martinet of a teacher -- but each actor fills his/her role as well as possible under these odd circumstances, in which violence and death, blood and killing aces out character at every turn.

I suspect that, having watched perhaps five times as many Asian movies in the past seven years since seeing Battle Royale, than I did in my entire life prior to 2005, I might cotton onto some of the specific Japanese cultural tidbits more readily now than before. Even back then, however, I found the movie original, shocking and undeniably prescient. If you in any way found The Hunger Games interesting, you owe it to yourself to see what its ten-times-better progenitor looks like.

The film, running time 122 minutes, is being released in at least one theater -- New York City, IFC Center, starting this Friday, May 25 -- by Anchor Bay Entertainment, before being distributed on DVD and Blu-ray. (It also looks to be coming soon to Landmark's Main Art Theater in Detroit.)

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