Elements of "Survivor," "Last House on the Left," and "Lord of the Flies" are mixed together to concoct an unforgettable sci-fi film could only have sprung from Japan, the country that has delivered over-the-top horror films like "Entrails of a Virgin" and "Evil Dead Trap."
In the near future, economic conditions have become so dire in Japan, that the government has legalized a gladiator-like event pitting teenage school children against one another. Battle Royale takes place on an isolated island, where all the kids are placed, each with a random weapon, which could be anything from a machine gun to a garbage can lid. The last child to survive after three days on the island wins. If any more than one child is alive at the end of the event, all the survivors are killed. Each child is equipped with an unremovable device on their neck which will explode if they stray from the island, or if more than one child is alive at the end of the game.
The adventure begins when a group of adolescents are drugged during what they believe is a school trip, only to wake up on an isolated island. The children are from the same class, so they've known one another most of their lives. They're informed by their old teacher that they will spend the next three days killing one another on this island. Anyone who doesn't participate will be killed.
"Battle Royale" is a disturbing film to say the least, and definitely one that could never have been made in the United States. With high production values, great acting and a ruthlessness that hasn't been seen in many films stateside since the 1970s, "Battle Royale" played in theaters in Europe, but only made a name for itself in the U.S. on VCDs sold over Ebay. Eventually it made its way to DVD too.
"Battle Royale" is a truly unique film, but not a perfect one. The idea behind the whole gladiator-like sport on the island is flawed, because there are no spectators. No one is watching the action, so what's the point? The underlying motivation behind the event seems to be a hatred adults have for teenagers, one that isn't completely explored. Like the original "Rollerball" or "Death Race 2000," Battle Royale is presumably supposed to be a violent event for entertaining the unruly masses. But since it isn't televised, what's the point? It's implied that since teens are sometimes violent, adults hate them. The school kids are led to their doom by their former teacher, who, it is shown early in the film, was once attacked by one of his students. But that's been true for ages. Despite this hole in the story, "Battle Royale" for the most part works brilliantly.
The film's greatest strength is its realistic portrayal of the teen characters, who, while put in a situation where they must battle for their lives, still obsess about being "cool" and talk about romances with the deadly seriousness all teens have. (The children are for the most part about junior high school age.) Despite their dire circumstances, most of the kids can't let go of their old attachments. But what really made the film an international, underground sensation is the violence, which is so over the top it would never be permitted in an American movie. At least, not today.
Many great foreign films wind up being remade in the U.S., but the growing fan base of "Battle Royale" doesn't have to worry about such a fate with this film. The only way it could be remade here is if it featured adult characters instead of kids, but that would eradicate the whole essence of the picture. Still, given the awesome success of this picture, I wouldn't put it past Hollywood to try to make a toned-down version of the biggest cult classic to emerge from Japan in ages.