KIKI’S TOP FIVE FAVOURITE JAPANESE FILMS: NUMBER 1 - Battle Royale
“Quelle surprise, Kiki,” you say. Well, I like what I like, okay? You may as well get used to it. I never said I was sophisticated.
Bean and I probably watched this film for the first time when we were still in high school. We (I?) transitioned out of a kung fu/martial arts films phase and into an anime/ultra violence phase which included films like Blood: The Last Vampire and Kill Bill. I remember looking it up on the interweb after we saw it, because it had impacted me and to be honest, confused me. It could have been that we watched a version which had been poorly subtitled; I would like to watch the latest release of it and see if things have been more fully explained for the intended western audience. Anyways, when I looked it up I came across a website which explained some portions of the film - like Noriko’s dream sequence and the ending - by basically saying “In Japan, films don’t have to make sense.”
I used to think that gaps in the narrative or inexplicable happenings (such as Kitano’s character appearing out of nowhere to give Noriko an umbrella) were plot holes and a sign of a terrible film. Seeing Battle Royale and thinking about it afterwards, I realized that as a viewer, I can and do fill in the blanks when I’m trusted by a filmmaker to make assumptions. I think in many scenes (which I won’t mention so as not to spoil the ending) the film is trying to provoke the audience into wondering WTF and wondering it for days afterwards - and I’m not just talking about the depictions of graphic violence.
Ultimately, I see Battle Royale (and the manga) as a character driven peice. The strength of the film lies in is how quickly it gets you emotionally invested in the characters and their relationships. Considering how many characters there are, this is actually quite a feat. Sure, to a certain extent the film draws on archetypes and genre conventions (some of which might be more familiar to a Japanese audience) but there is a specificity of detail which makes even minor characters memorable. By engaging the audience with the characters and letting their relationships and emotions guide the story (as opposed to the action, of which there is plenty) the stakes are high, every death matters to the audience and there are a lot of them. Which is perhaps why I was so bored with The Hunger Games: despite the action and suspense which seems to be inherent in the premise, and the clarity with which the plot is presented, somehow the characters didn’t elicit a similar emotional investment from me. But I digress. Battle Royale: Watch it, or else: