[The Cult Club is where Flixist’s writers expound the virtues of their favourite underground classics, spanning all nations and genres. It is a monthly series of articles looking at what made those films stand out from the pack, as well as their enduring legacy.]
First and foremost, I must admit that I’m not into “cult” films. We each have our own cinematic interests that we tend to gravitate to, and cult films are unfortunately not one usually one of mine. However, exceptions exist for everything, and this holds true for cult films. I may not be a cult king or queen like Xander or Liz, but when a film’s good, it’s good.
And damn, is Battle Royale good.
Battle Royale is a Japanese action film adaptation of the manga of the same name. Due to an increasing unemployment rates and growing dissent amongst its teenagers, the Japanese government decides to enact the Millennium Educational Reform Act, also known as the Battle Royale Act. Under the new law, a random junior high class is sent to a deserted island where students are forced to kill each other within a three day time frame. The last survivor is allowed to escape from the island, but if there’s more than one survivor remaining after time is expired, then everybody dies. What.
To complement the premise are the various archetypal characters that any anime fan would find familiar. A large majority of the 42 students get sizable screen time, allowing some back story to help shape their individual narratives. For example, Mitsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaki) is depicted as a vindictive, psychotic bitch until you find out her Mom attempted to sell her into child prostitution at an early age in an unsettling flashback scene.
Battle Royale also casts Chiaki Kuriyama as one of the students. Most of you might remember her as Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill. Do I even need to explain why she gets to be singled out in her own paragraph? Mmm…
Of course, an amazing premise wouldn’t mean anything without the film actually living up to its potential, and Battle Royale doesn’t let down. Each student is given a survival kit with a random object to assist them in their battles. Of course, not every object actually proves to be useful. Main protagonist Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), for example, receives a pot lid. While it does help him on one occasion, let’s be honest: Nanahara is no Captain America.
Real weapons and guns are distributed amongst the students, leading to lots of bloodshed… no, “bloodshed” is too much of an understatement. Like any good cult/exploitation film, blood simply sprays out like an exploding juice blood from every wound inflicted, dousing both victim and assailant in crimson. However, as the characters are students and seemingly inexperienced with battle, they wield their weapons awkwardly and tend to stumble either into or out of sticky situations. In one scene, for example, an homage to the Mexican standoff plays out with three female students awkwardly wielding their weapons at one another, resulting in blood showers, uncontrollable body writhing, and school girl underwear shots.
Battle Royale is the kind of film you’d watch with your friend to show off how much more violent Japanese films are than American films. Some of the film’s death scenes are amongst my favorites, such as Kuriyama’s Takako Chigusa repeatedly stabbing a prospective rapist in the penis. It has garnered a large following, especially amongst the Japanophile crowds; it’s like a real-life anime film (but actually good). Quentin Tarantino himself has gone on to call Battle Royale his favorite film to be released since his directorial debut in 1992.
Furthermore, Battle Royale served to be the US’ first taste of the extreme Asian cinematic style. Considering the Columbine shootings happened just a year prior to its theatrical release, you can imagine the kind of controversy it’d have received had it gotten proper American distribution. The depiction of overt teenage violence also fueled backlash against the film, as well as the overarching theme of adult distrust. Upon its release, Japanese Parliament labeled the film “crude and tasteless.”
If you haven’t already seen Battle Royale, you can rent it out from Netflix or find one of a handful of Japanese import stores. Anchor Bay Entertainment is rumored to release the film in 3D this year for the US’ first official release if you’re into 3D conversions. Whatever the case, I implore you to catch this film, if not for the blood-filled violence, then for the basketball flashbacks/montages.
Next Month… jolly kid Jenika Katz will cover Top Secret!
PREVIOUSLY SHOWING AT THE CULT CLUB
March: Django (1966)
May: Troll 2 (1990)