The film begins as the 42 students of ninth grade class 3-B are on a field trip, when their entire bus is gassed as they’re sleeping. They awake in a classroom on a remote island, with their sadistic former teacher Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) standing at the front of the room. A satirically perverse video cheerfully informs them that they have been randomly selected for Battle Royale, and that the new metal necklaces clamped around their necks are explosives triggered to go off in three days time. Each student is given a backpack with a randomly assigned weapon – some receive machine guns, others pot lids – as well as a map of the island.
Their task is to kill each other before the time limit runs out, and the last man standing will walk free. Yet there’s another catch, the island is split into zones, and every few hours a new zone will become deadly for anyone who enters it, for entering the danger zone during the wrong hour will blow up your collar. The students, at first in disbelief, are quickly brought to realize their situation when two students are killed before even leaving the briefing room. Also – there have been two new additions to the class, two older boys who glare angrily at the rest of the class, and seem to have experience in massacring other teens.
Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale is one of the best-known and most acclaimed Japanese films of all time, and rightly so. Based upon the 1999 novel by Koushun Takami, this highly controversial movie marvelously blends gratuitous violence with a compelling plot, and makes a dramatic social criticism. Battle Royale is the film that began the death game trend, influencing dozens of movies and books since its release – most notably Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games novels and the 2012 film of the same name (see: The Hunger Games).
Leaving the adolescent and societal commentaries aside, Battle Royale is in itself a wonderful piece of action-thriller filmmaking. Through the sprays of blood we feel great sorrow and fear for the heroes, as well as generating despise towards the primary antagonists. Fukasaku leads us by the hand into a dark and haunting environment, and never lets us go. The mix of comical and grotesque will make some uneasy, but is truly a masterful achievement on the part of the filmmakers, making Battle Royale a film not soon to be forgotten, and one that shouldn't be missed.