Sunday, December 20, 2009

REVIEW: Battle Royale (2000)

Perhaps not quite so internationally obscure now - nine years on - as it was when it was first released in Japan, Battle Royale would have made a far more fitting final movie for director Kinji Fukasaku instead of its lesser sequel three years later... which in fact his son Kenta polished off after the director's death at age 72.

You certainly couldn’t take style, content and inspiration any further a field from Fukasaku senior's earlier action-adventure romp Legend Of 8 Samurai, nattered about in this blog two weeks ago.

So clear your frazzled silly-season brain. It’s a not-too-distant future. Japan is again a fascist state. An arbitrarily-chosen bus full of high school kids are knocked out with sleeping gas, kidnapped, then shipped on to an isolated island - where they’re informed by their embittered former teacher Kitano ('Beat' Takeshi Kitano) that the only way they will leave said island is by killing all their classmates – or by ending up in a body-bag themselves.

In order to enforce this mandate, each student is shackled with an exploding collar, à la Wedlock, and Kitano punctuates the students’ plight with a well-aimed penknife to one of the girl’s foreheads, thereby launching a battle for self-preservation.

Shuja (Tatsuya Fujiwara, more recently the star in the live-action Death Note franchise) and Noriko (Aki Maeda; she’s appeared in both Gamera and Godzilla movies, did the voice of Yuki in the Studio Ghibli anime The Cat Returns, and teamed up last year with Kiichi Nakai in Samurai Gangsters) team up, then are later aided and abetted by mysterious transfer student Kawada (Taro Yamamoto, who appeared in Seijun Suzuki's musical romp Princess Raccoon (2005), with Hiroko Yakushimaru from Legend Of 8 Samurai).

There’re some hilarious acting histrionics and amateur execution techniques along the way, and the true stand-outs are Takako (played by Chiaki Kuriyama, a.k.a. Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill: Vol. 1), Yuko Miyamura (who does the hyperactive and chillingly genki Training Video Girl, and previously voiced Asuka Langley Sohryu in the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion) and – of course - Takeshi Kitano.

While he previously popped up in a not-so-memorable English language role in the Keanu Reeves vehicle Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Kitano was outstanding in his own movies Sonatine (1993), Hana-bi (1997), and Zatoichi (2003). Here the actor underpins the rancorous teacher - with a 'pen' chance for revenge - with a whimsical ease and blasé humour that’s gloriously disturbing.

Some incongruous orchestral music by Johann Sebastian Bach is thrown in for good measure, as well as an overall soundtrack by Masamichi Amano – who previously scored the ultra-violent anime Legend Of The Overfiend (1989).

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