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This review is from: Battle Royale - Two Disc Special Edition [DVD]  (DVD)
When I first heard about this film I thought it sounded like a cool idea, if a little cliched these days, but after reading reviews all I expected was a pointless and purely escapist gore-fest. Though this is probably true to a certain extent, it doesn't really feel like a gory movie. There is a great deal of violence and death, but this is never really dwealt upon. People die, there names flash up on the screen, and we move on. Very little of the violent scenes are really gratuitous: there are only two characters who could really be seen as representing the mindless killing that we might expect from a film like this. One, however, we learn is not so much revelling in murder, as doing so to escape from the life she has been forced into. The other, the infamous Kiriyama, kills with apparent pleasure but without uttering a word. We never really know what we are thinking.
There are probably three reasons to watch this film, or at least three ways to view it. One is as a slickly written and filmed movie which bombards us with so many stories that we are unable really to predict what will happen, despite the many cliches thrown at us. This is the mature film-making of a mature film-maker, capable of keeping a film going without attempting to instil any overall message. The attempts of those characters we might expect the director to most sympathise with, those who attempt to rebel against the system (as I think the director did in his younger days) are thwarted by Kiriyama's dispassionate shooting spree, without the group ever really having a chance to carry out their plan.
The second reason is perhaps the multitude of characters and their reactions to the situation, which is quite explicitly established as a paradigm of real life, as Kitano tells Class B 'Life is a game. Now fight for srvival and see if you're worth it.' This is where the Lord of the Flies element comes in. No matter who a character is, their intentions will always be compromised by those of another. The characters are carried along by the system dying deaths as absurd and pointless as the game itself. The message is perhaps dark, but if you llike looking at the woorld in this kind of way, you'll enjoy the movie.
The third reason is no doubt the quality of the acting, with most of the characters played by school-age children. Its this that gives the movie its originality and subtlety. The relationships between characters seem as apprehensive and real as they would be in a real school situation. At the same time no character is a steretype; there are no jocks or geeks as such, and no time is spent lingering on past events which are proved now by the situation to be irrelevant.
I'm not sure this film can be classed a masterpiece, but at the same time is far more enjoyable than many films that would be, and not just in a guns 'n death kinda way. It's a beautiful, often subtle film, and though not exactly profound it makes no attempts to be so. If you're looking for gratuitous violence you might be disappointed. Suffering in this film is for the most part self-inflicted. This is a film about school-leavers fighting not only a world which despises them, but also a world which loves them.