Review: Batoru Rowaiaru (Battle Royale, Special Edition, 2000)

One kill, and another kill, and yet another kill, and another kill…

Screenplay By: Kenta Fukasaku
Directed By: Kinji Fukasaku

Batoru Rowaiaru is a film with a huge cult following. It’s a film that I feel safe to say has reached the point where it is beloved among a majority of cinephiles. Quentin Tarantino once labeled it the best film of the past two decades, most critics love it, a franchise like The Hunger Games is heavily influenced by it (the author can say that’s not the case all she wants, but I don’t buy it). Kinji Fuksasaku’s film can be found on any number of best of lists, and there are many more quantifiers I could list of the high status Batoru Rowaiaru has achieved in the cinephile community. Why then did I come away from Batoru Rowaiaru wondering what all the hoopla was about?

I’ll get the controversy out of the way right now. There should be no controversy behind Batoru Rowaiaru, it is tame compared to most gory horror movies (heck, it’s tame compared to a lot of Hollywood action movies). There’s no reason anyone should ever have gotten up in arms over the content of the film. I don’t understand why anyone ever got upset over the content of Batoru Rowaiaru, but if someone reading this did get upset, you need to calm down and move on to things that are worthy of getting upset over.

As far as the actual film goes, I was in love with Batoru Rowaiaru for pretty much its entire first half. The clash of vibrant and dull colors made for a very interesting and compelling visual palette. The concept was set up nicely and played out in a way that drew me in. I especially loved the absurd comedy of the entire affair. From the exposition laden rule explaining video to the initial deaths, I found myself laughing heartily at the dark comedy of Batoru Rowaiaru. When the deaths started happening I enjoyed the way they were set up, and how the film was utilizing the differences in the characters as well as the terrain they inhabited.

That was the first half of the film, which was leagues better than the second half of the film. The second half of Batoru Rowaiaru was repetitive and humorless. At a certain point there’s only so many times I can watch high school age kids (who are never developed so that I have any reason to care about any of them) shoot at one another before it gets old. The film got real old, real fast during its second half. Everything after the main trio of kids- Shuya, Noriko, and Kawada- hook up is the movie repeating itself. I became bored with the technique of, “one kids runs into another kid, one of them is scared, and the other one either kills them maliciously or accidentally.” That happens over and over again in Batoru Rowaiaru, and by the end of the film it’s no longer fun, funny, or intriguing.

The other problem with Batoru Rowaiaru is that it says all that it has to say by the halfway point. It’s statements on the Japanese education system and the way that kids are turned into super competitors to prepare for adulthood is thoroughly explored in the first half of the film. The second half has nothing new to add to those explorations, and that’s why the second half of Batoru Rowaiaru does turn into a series of random and meaningless killings.

I know that I am in the minority by liking Batoru Rowaiaru and not loving it, but that’s the way the chips have fallen. I loved certain aspects of Fukasaku-san’s film, but it did not completely work for me. Maybe the theatrical cut is better than the special edition that I watched, but I’m not so sure the theatrical cut could improve much on the special edition version. Batoru Rowaiaru is a fine movie, it is interesting, and thought provoking, for a while. I could watch the first half of Batoru Rowaiaru endlessly and never get tired, but just thinking of watching the second half again has me shuddering at the ceaseless repetitiveness. A great first half and then a monotonous second half make Batoru Rowaiaru an uneven, but still somewhat satisfying film.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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4 responses to “Review: Batoru Rowaiaru (Battle Royale, Special Edition, 2000)

  1. Dave (Melvil)

    A fair assessment, Bill. You’re definitely right that the controversy has been way overblown and probably does the film a disservice. I also completely agree about how compelling the setup is and that the dark humor and absurdity is very enjoyable.

    To offer a different perspective on the rest, I don’t find the film to be particularly repetitive except perhaps on the basic superficial level. The thing I’ve always found so interesting about the story in Battle Royale is how we see how the former relationships of each teen affects their behavior within their new circumstances. I would argue that the best examples of this come in the second half, and that there is very little repetition in how and why each interaction plays out. The exception to this, I suppose, is anytime the character of Kazuo is involved, as he is very specifically the wildcard character that keeps the momentum up and raises the threat for our hero characters.

    Not everybody agrees with me on this point, but it’s certainly the reason I hold the film in such high esteem. I find there to be a lot of emotional interest through the entire story.

    BTW, I don’t feel strongly one way or the other, but many people seem to prefer the theatrical cut. Besides enhancing some of the digital effects, the director’s cut mostly adds to the scenes that take place outside of the game itself. Personally I enjoy most of those additions, although it is true it slows the movie down in places. Since your complaint was mostly with the fighting part of it I doubt the theatrical cut would alter your response much.

  2. That’s an interesting perspective Dave, and I can certainly see those elements at play. Maybe they’ll stand out for me more the next time I watch the film. After this viewing I didn’t feel the film did a good enough job of digging beneath the superficial killing. But we’ll see what the future holds. 🙂

  3. Good points on the controversy. Most of it comes from people who haven’t actually seen the film, but have only read a synopsis of it (or was read one by their assistant).

    I enjoyed both halves of the film. In the second half I liked how as each student advanced they inevitably started running into each other, and we were getting to see a “battle of the champions” of sorts.

  4. I liked that aspect of the film to a point, but I was so blown away by the first half that the second half deviated from that didn’t have much choice other than to underwhelm me.

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