The opening titles for Kinji Fukusaka’s 2000 film Battle Royale (Batoru Rowariaru) read:
“In the beginning of the new century, the country fell apart. The Japanese economy collapsed, the unemployment rate skyrocketed and all grown-ups lost their confidence. Children came to feel contempt for their parents, teachers and the authorities. Disorder in classrooms, stabbings of teachers and boycotting of school became a widespread epidemic.”
Battle Royale’s world is drawn from contemporary Japan, in which recession has generalised insecurity and undermined the former expectation of the salary-man’s job for life. Alongside this, moral panics about youth violence serve to obfuscate cuts to an education system widely understood as facilitating intense pressure and stress among its young students (Antoniou 2004). Indeed, the release of the film instigated criticism from members of the Japanese Diet who deemed it as too critical of contemporary education reforms (Arai 2003). While the veteran yakuza film director Fukusaka lodged an appeal with Eirin over its R15+ rating, calls from the Diet to increase this age restriction meant this was not pursued. Instead, after a commercially successful opening month, Battle Royale was re-released in an adapted version rated for younger audiences (Mes 2001). It was the subject of some further minor controversy in relation to the “Sasebo slashing” in 2004, in which an 11-year-old student murdered her classmate and was discovered to have read Battle Royale.
The film is based on the 1999 novel by Koushun Takami, adapted into a screenplay by Fukusaka’s son Kenta, who directed the sequel Battle Royale 2 following his father’s death. Fukasaku has claimed to have drawn on his own experience as a 15-year-old working in a munitions factory at the end of WWII, where he was required to move the dead bodies of his fellow young workers following bombing raids, and where the disparity between the reality of Japan’s position in the war and what the people were being told by the government was stark. The story features fractured relationships between young people and adults, including the protagonist Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), whose father has recently committed suicide, and the high-school teacher, Kitano (Takeshi Kitano), estranged from his daughter and unable to control his students. Kitano nominates his class, 3-B, to participate in a national ritual underpinned by the recently passed “Battle Royale”, or “Millennium Education Reform Act”, under which each year one class of students are taken to a remote island and required to fight one another to the death. This was passed in response to the failure of disciplinary measures to reduce truancy, but clearly manifests extreme violence, including through military force, in response to juvenile delinquency. The plot follows the murder of students across three days of competition, eventuating in a showdown with their deranged teacher. – Liam Grealy
– Antoniou, A. (2004). Battle Royale. In J. Bowyer & J. Choi (eds) The cinema of Japan and Korea. London & New York: Wallflower Press.
– Arai, A. (2003). Killing kids: Recession and survival in twenty-first century Japan. Postcolonial Studies. 6(3): 367-379.
– Mes, T. (2001). Battle Royale. Midnight Eye. http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/battle-royale/