I watched the Japanese film Battle Royale
a couple of weeks ago. It was one of those films on my 'I really ought to watch that sometime' list, but had never got the chance to catch it (there's a rant there about the distribution of films outside of London, but we'll leave it for another time) and it managed to win out over everything else in Blockbuster. It's an excellent film, well worth watching if you get the chance.
There's a lot of parallels between Battle Royale
and the American independent film Series 7: The Contenders
in that both depict an officially-sanctioned game in which a group of randomly-selected contestants are armed and then sent out to kill each other, with only one being left alive at the end. Series 7
came out about a year after Battle Royale
, but I don't believe there was any direct influence of one on the other because, while the two films have a similar basic story, they differ greatly in the telling of that story and also in the message they carry.
is essentially just a satire on reality TV, especially game shows like Big Brother
and Survivor. Here, the killing is essentially just that - effectively licensed murder for entertainment - and while Battle Royale
uses it to carry a deeper meaning of the film, the killings are the basic meaning of Series 7
, the message being 'this is what TV would be like if they got the chance'. There are some hints of a larger back story that's not being revealed - Franklin's speech after killing Lindsay, the replacement of Dawn and Jeffrey's 'final standoff' with a reconstruction (by the way, anyone who's seen the film might find this alternate ending described on the IMDb
interesting) - but the game's the main thing, and the show that surrounds it with all the usual TV hype is what's being satired here.
, on the other hand, presents its game as a fundamental part of a near-future post-'collapse' Japan, as well as using it to make a deeper point about the relationship, and unspoken competition, between generations. This is probably because it's an adaptation of a Japanese novel
and, as such, it has more to work with. Here, the older generation have decided that Japan's faults are because of the fecklessness of the younger generation, and they need something to buck themselves up. So far, so Daily Telegraph
letters page, you might think, but this is where the 'Battle Royale Act' comes in - every year, one class of schoolchildren is chosen, taken to an island and given 72 hours to kill each other. If more than one survives by that point, they're all killed.
It's a quite extraordinarily violent film with over 40 people dying during it, and each one happening in quite graphic detail. However, this isn't gore for the sake of gore - even though the violence in Japanese films tends to be more graphic (and perhaps closer to reality) than most Western films, the point of the film is to confront the viewer with the meaning of death, especially in the context of young people being sent to a meaningless death by an older generation obsessed by meaningless values. It's not a coincidence that the producer/director/scriptwriter, Kinji Fukasaku, was a veteran of WW2, and the forthcoming Battle Royale II
appears to be an even closer retelling of his experiences then.
That's the difference between the two films, in my opinion - while Series 7
is a good, well-made film the points it makes aren't much more than 'if there was reality TV show where people killed each other on screen, people would watch it'. It's not an original revelation - you can trace it back through movies and books through The Running Man
all the way back to Roman gladiators.
, though, adds in a whole lot more from a Lord of the Flies
-esque presentation of the thin line between civilisation and barbarism to the idea of how each generation will always try and blame the one above or below it for all its problems instead of accepting its own faults. It's a fascinating film, and well worth watching if you can stand the levels of violence...and if you live somewhere other than the US
, where it appears to be very hard to track down a copy.