Monday, 23 April 2012

Battle Royale

After all the mentioning of BR thanks to the HG I of course had to watch it again. I was surprised by how obvious the similarities were, more than I realised, but after hearing what author Koushun Takami had to say on the matter it just seems pointless to keep this debate ongoing. Yes I think Suzanne Collins was aware of other literature out there being similar to her novel, as was her publisher because there's simply no way they wouldn't do research and the similarities are glaringly obvious but at the end of the day, if the author doesn't want to sue then you just have to leave it and enjoy both or whatever one you want. For anyone's interest, Takami said, according to Wikipedia, "every novel has something to offer," and that if "readers find value in either book, that's all an author can ask for." It's a nice sentiment and very true.

So back to Battle Royale. As always it filled me with emotion, it tugged at my heartstrings, made me really feel for a lot of these characters and invoked anger and grief even though I knew what was going to happen. The girls with the megaphones, the lighthouse scene and poor Shinji, Iijima and Yutaka's end, are all very poignant, tragic and memorable scenes. The entire movie is memorable of course, with Takako, Mitsuko and Kazuo offering the violence and shock value, for different reasons.
For me it's the fact that these students were largely played by students, which made it seem so real (unlike many American productions which cast 30+ in the role of students, something THG thankfully did not do), and the music and imagery that brought the whole thing together. The use of classical music playing when the deceased's names were read out and that wonderful, creepy music for Kazuo, was perfect and really helped to invoke feelings. I also loved the scene when you thought Toshinori had survived being shot by Kazuo (thanks to a bulletproof vest) only to have Kazuo appear from the rooftops with a sword and behead him (although who knows where the sword came from).

This film isn't just mindless violence, rather it's a film about politics, the emotions and relationships between people, loyalty, betrayal, the depths of one's mind and the unfairness of the world. You feel and understand Shuya's outrage and confusion as he ponders over Yukie's line 'Do you know what that means?' wondering about it in a new context. No longer wondering about Yukie's hints to him that she liked him, he now wants to know what the game means. What purpose could such violence possibly serve, and is it worth it in the end? For Shogo the answer is yes, his being forced to play the game, his pain and his ultimate death were worth it in the end because he helped beat the game and solved the mystery of Keiko's smile, that is assuming that Keiko was even real. The movie is never clear on Shogo's motivations and what is truth and what is not with him, he changes his father's profession continuously (doctor, chef, fisherman) but Kitano mentions Keiko, implying that that story was true.
It's a strange sort of film, genre even, to find entertainment in, it's barbaric and yet we enjoy watching it, of course it's fictional but then the gladiator fights in the coliseum were very real and entertainment was very much found in watching man slaughter man with weapons and animals thrown into the mix. Yet when the coliseum battles were simply a cruel bloodsport, Battle Royale gives us something more. Yes it's a cruel game invented by a desperate government trying to scare its youth into acting humane but it also shows us exactly what humans are capable of, giving us an insight into emotions and relationships pushed to their limits. It also prompts us to ask, who are the real villains here- the rebellious and violent youth or the fearful adults who force them to kill each other in a disturbing form of discipline?

Through Shogo, Noriko and Shuya, and to a lesser extent, Shinji, Iijima and Yutaka, and even Hiroki Sugimura we have hope. Shogo promises a way off the island for Noriko and Shuya and delivers, although at a heavy cost to himself. Noriko preserves her innocence, escaping the island without having to kill anyone, thanks to Shogo and Shuya, thus proving you can leave the game unscathed.

Shinji, Iijima and Yutaka are successful in hacking the system, although later we see that the guards overcome this but perhaps if Kazuo had not brutally gunned them down they might have been able to successfully take advantage of this. Hiroki makes his way through the violent island to find the girls who matter most to him and he succeeds and saves Shuya from Kazuo along the way, even managing to drag Shuya from the ocean and to the lighthouse where he finds shelter for him. Unfortunately, Hiroki is too late to save Takako though he does manage to say farewell to her and he is ultimately killed by his love Kayoko Kotohiki, who had no idea he even liked her. Admittedly this does taint a lot of the hope found in the film, making it deceptive, you want to believe Shinji and the others will make it but unfortunately the unpredictable nature of the game ruins their chances as they are mercilessly cut down by Kazuo.
Even Shuya and Noriko surviving the game isn't much of a happy ending as they pay a grave price for their survival. They are now fugitives, wanted for murder and for assisting a murderer, they cannot return to their families or their lives and must go on the run and if the knife Noriko takes with her is any indication, then her innocence will be lost despite Shuya and Shogo's best efforts. Even though they did beat the system by giving the game two survivors instead of just one, what does that really say? Does it really mean the game will end in their world, that the corrupt system will fall? Unlikely, the government will merely brush over it, dub them murderers and host a new game.

Without an army, these pair have no chance, an idea that THG and BR II touched upon. I have never seen BR II due to the poor ratings so I can't tell you how well this film focused upon that. So Battle Royale concludes with lives needlessly and tragically lost, some through suicide but most through murder carried out by their own friends (as well as a psychopath) and the only two survivors are forced to survive as wanted criminals, a bitter reward for surviving the game.

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