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Japanese Goodness – BATTLE ROYALE

BATTLE ROYALE is Kinji Fukusaku’s final film, and a testament to his stature as one of the greatest directors of all time.

Fukasaku‘s diverse career saw him directing some amazing gangster movies (The Yakuza Papers pentalogy, Graveyard of Honor, Street Mobster) campy sci-fi MST3K fodder (The Green Slime, Message from Space), artsy dramas (Under the Flag of the Rising Sun, Black Rose Mansion) and stylish 1980’s Sword and Sorcery flicks (Samurai Reincarnation, Legend of the Eight Samurai), but this Lord of the Flies-like masterpiece might be the best of the bunch. Based on the novel by Koshun Takami, it’s the tale of a class of Japanese high-schoolers randomly selected to participate in a kill-or-be-killed, state sanctioned reality show, in which they’re dumped on an island with 3 days to kill each other using randomly distributed weapons. And though the film satisfies the visceral promise which comes with such a premise, it is also a lyrical movie about hopes, dreams, fears, and identity – with the looming violence serving to punctuate the goings-on. Every character – from the geeky math nerd muttering about getting into college while holding a crossbow on his classmates to the athletic runner who uses the game to avenge sexual innuendo to the sadistic students who have actually chosen to participate – is three dimensional and compelling, and you find yourself rooting for even the least-likable kids. Each student overflows with the promise of youth, a promise we know will be squashed, if not by the insane game they’ve found themselves playing then by the one they hope to return to – normal Japanese society. Beautifully shot, with superb acting (Takeshi Kitano especially), it’s one of those larger than life man-versus-society films, like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi Driver, Clockwork Orange and Cool Hand Luke – in other words, it’s a freakin’ classic, and the fact it was never released in North America is nothing less than a travesty.

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