A magnificent cult object that many critics tried to mainstream in March when the similarly plotted Hunger Games took off, Kinji Fukasaku’s slick, sick nightmare is best left to the quasi-banned realm where it exists as a perfect satire; when brought into reality, it’s a touch awkward. Still, forgive the film its small flaws of histrionic performances and cheap execution for the giddy rush of its banal, Verhoevenesque atmosphere, one in which a whispering schoolgirl who’s not quiet during a presentation gets a switchblade to the forehead via her teacher (Takeshi Kitano, whose blank demeanor works perfectly here).
The teens, a classroomful, have been conscripted into mortal combat on a remote island; each competitor is outfitted with an explosive collar to ensure compliance. Natural alliances form along popularity lines, with crushes figuring into the melodrama too. Fukasaku, already age 70 at the time and, it was thought, past his youthsploitation prime, uncorked deep reserves of sympathy for his adolescent characters. He skewers the cast mercilessly, but more so the trash culture that could hypothetically produce such a pitiless game (complete with its own upbeat training video). IFC Center’s booking of Battle Royale is significant for fans of Japanese genre fare, but—be warned—Team Katniss will find the movie a bit gross. Some might argue that’s as it ought to be.
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