The winner of our April film writing competition, run in connection with the Electric Sheep monthly film club at the Prince Charles Cinema, is Adam Powell. Our judge was John Berra, editor of Directory of World Cinema: Japan. This is what John said:
Battle Royale was burdened by the ‘Asia Extreme’ banner when it was released in 2000, but more recent discussion of Kinji Fukasaku’s controversial cinematic swansong has focused on its underlying social commentary, which considers the ‘collapsed class’ syndrome that is affecting the Japanese education system and the cut-throat world that awaits students upon graduation. The reviews submitted for this competition strived to place the horrific imagery into social-political context, carefully considering this aesthetically visceral and culturally complex film from a variety of perspectives. Adam Powell’s winning review references many of the most graphic moments of Battle Royale as a means of illustrating Fukusaku’s critical stance towards both the modern media and the almost sacrificial manner in which young people are sent to war by their government, while identifying some of the elements that make the film a uniquely Japanese experience.
Here’s Adam Powell’s review:
A scrum of outstretched microphones and flashbulbs attempt to reach an almost idyllic lone infant sat soiled by endless flecks of blood. A hysterical media satire, Battle Royale plays out like a dystopian Japanese game show where the grizzly body count is confirmed constantly through a subtitled scoreboard. Japan’s favourite game show host Takeshi Kitano even oversees the bloodbath, appearing as himself by way of the morose and scorned sensei of the supposedly delinquent children. The school kids are dispatched by government order, screaming and tearful in their prim uniforms to do battle on an island where waves collide against the rocks and fog streams across empty landscapes like a warzone. The children die as soldiers among rapturous gun fire, crossbows, swinging axes, sickles and samurai swords. A fable for history’s children of war, it wallows in the bitterness of its graphic executions and suicides with a romantic and lushly melancholic classical score. A boy’s decapitated head is thrown mouth stuffed with grenade, a pretty schoolgirl repeatedly stabs a randy classmate through his genitals, playground confrontations become terminal and one boy learns of justice and honour in a senseless situation. As Kitano says, ‘Life is a battle, so fight hard for survival!’