19 March, 2012

Battle Royale Movie Review


Battle Royale released in 2000 in Japan, based on the novel of the same title which I have already sort of reviewed earlier. The film only officially released in the US in December 2011, not because it had been banned (which was a rumor) but because no one had bought the distribution rights. The film has gotten really good reviews and even won some awards in Japan, dispite a number of protestations and criticisms of the film's subject material when it released.

As a film on its own, Battle Royale is kick ass. It's an awesome, bloody, crazy film that tells the story of a bunch of Japanese teenage classmates who are forced to fight a battle to the death on an island. Its fun and shocking, and I can easily see why people who saw the movie before reading the book, would prefer the film. It cuts right to the chase, it skips most of the backstory (obviously due to only having 2 hours to tell the story) and uses the gore and violence and youth of the contestants to full impact. The problem I have with Battle Royale the film, is when I start looking at it as an adaptation of the 1999 novel. (It is not an adaptation of the manga, the novel came first.) Like I said, to those who see the film first, I can see how the novel is probably way to long etc. but since I read the novel before I saw the film, to me, as an adaptation, the film doesn't quite hold up. At least, not as well as I'd hoped.

Again, I understand the need to cut out a lot of backstory because of time restraints. But there were a number of things cut for the film version that I just don't understand. I'll give the two biggest examples: Kazuo's character, the main antagonist, changes from paper to screen, and one of the most film-y sequences from the book, a car chase/shootout is not in the film at all.

Regarding Kazuo, in the film he is evil. He is mean and emotional and enjoys killing his fellow classmates. He even volunteers to join the class just to participate in this battle to the death. He is for all intents and purposes, a pure psychopath, which serves as the reason he goes on a killing rampage. The book Kazuo is much more chilling; he feels nothing. He doesn't feel much pain, he feels no guilt, anger, joy, no emotion of any kind. He suffered brain damage as a fetus, when his mother was in a car accident. This damaged the part of his brain that controls human emotion. Kazuo decides to play the game, to kill his classmates, because he flips a coin, and that's the side it lands on. He doesn't enjoy killing anyone, but he doesn't feel bad about it either. Imagine being hunted by someone who has no feelings, pure creepy. I think it would have made the film much more interesting to keep Kazuo the way he was originally written.

The car chase being cut makes far less sense to me. Kazuo in a car chasing, Shuya, Shogo, and Niroko in a van while they are shooting at each other and almost dying every second, why would anyone cut that? And it takes place right around the climax of the film. I guess I'd have to ask the filmmakers to get an answer to this. It's really disappointing to read something like that and see absolutely nothing of it on screen.

The film doesn't come close to developing the kind of depth the novel has, but I'd say definitely see the film Battle Royale, it is awesome on its own. But if you've read the book already, prepare yourself for some serious changes. Not just in some scenes, but in some of the character psychology as well.


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