Best of Frightfest: As the twentieth anniversary of Arrow Video Frightfest approaches, we at team THN take a look back at some of the best and brightest films that have screened over the last two decades. Our choice for today is Battle Royale.
In 2001 I was exposed to the bloody violent power of Battle Royale. It was a film I had heard a lot about, and its premise instantly hooked me. A class of school children in their final year of compulsory education are shipped to an island and forced to kill each other until there is only one survivor. Being in my final year of compulsory education at the time certainly gave a unique perspective to the film. Not only that, but it was a time when reality TV was on the rise, with growing voyeuristic tendencies, and school shootings became a common news fixture as Columbine had happened just two years before. Unfortunately, not a lot seems to have changed.
Based on the novel by Koushun Takami and helmed by the legendary Kinji Fukusaku, Battle Royale touched nerves, but also left a legacy throughout popular culture that still resonates today. The idea itself is pure horror. The Japanese government has had enough of juvenile delinquents and criminals, and so proposes that every year a class will be selected randomly via lottery to compete in a sick and twisted game. Each student is sent out with a bag that includes a singular weapon of varying degrees of usefulness (ranging from shotgun to pot lid), and must kill their classmates.
How the horror develops however is even more interesting. The infamous tagline “Could you kill your best friend?” immediately places viewers in the role of the students. Audience members start to think of how they would handle this situation, what would their game plan be? And could they trust their closest friends? It’s something most balanced people would not like to consider, but as the story progresses, we see some characters become more ruthless, while others remain true. There are those who immediately cave to the pressures, others who make rash decisions, and those that merely want to track down the person they love. Tragedy is forever present, and it makes it all the more harrowing with how young the contestants are.
Takeshi Kitano as the class’s former teacher, and now pointman on the Battle Royale project. He has a subtle sense of glee in how he mocks and terrifies students, and his PA announcements are darkly jovial. What’s worse, is that he is a man who feels the youth are destroying his country, and honestly believes this will help the future. He also still has a place in his heart for his favourite students, making him reluctantly likeable in certain scenes.
Battle Royale would go on to lay the groundwork for the insanely popular Hunger Games franchise, what that dystopian future is so far removed from our own that it loses so much of the heart and relatability that Battle Royale possessed. It has also potentially inspired the Fortnite video game, which now sees teenagers and school children killing each other over the internet. Thankfully, this seems to be a much healthier and more productive way of engaging in such an activity, and recently crowned champion, 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf, will be happy he walked away with not just his life, but also $3 million. Anyone who has encountered Fortnite will know it includes bright colourful cartoonish characters which aids the detachment. Battle Royale, however, is raw, vicious, cruel, and painful. Don’t expect Battle Royale the videogame any time soon.
Arrow Video Frightfest returns for its twentieth year on 22nd August 2019. Full details about the event can be found on the Frightfest website.