By Jimmi CampkinCharacters
I will concentrate on the ‘main’ protagonists and antagonists. There are a lot of students and most of them only utter a line or two before being bumped off. Nanahara
– Say hello to our hero. After a tough upbringing, including the suicide of his father and time in an orphanage, he just needs a bit of guidance. After the early death (in the game) of his best friend Nobu, he decides to take care of the girl whom Nobu fancied, and inevitably ends up moving in on the poor, dead kid’s patch. What a friend indeed!
Kill count – 2. Survives. Noriko
– First Nobu’s and then Nanahara’s love interest. She has a special relationship with Kitano as well (i.e. she actually turns up to classes). A gentle little princess, but hardy enough to survive a bullet graze to the arm.
Kill Count – None. Survives.Kiriyama
– Cold blooded, smartly dressed, completely mute killer. We are told that he has signed up to the game ‘for fun’. I liked Kiriyama. Although not possessed with any lines (he does not speak once in the film), I loved his body language and the way he flailed about, especially during gun battles. Even a lack of eyes doesn’t stop this guy.
Kill Count – 12. Killed by Kawada.Kawada
– A survivor from a previous game and remarkably resourceful. His motives are avenging the death of his girlfriend. He befriends Noriko and Nanahara and takes it upon himself to protect them.
Kill Count – 2. Fatally wounded by Kiriyama. Mitsuko
– Killer, with a dark past. There is a back story detailing her being bullied and forced into prostitution as a child. In the film however, she is simply a calculating killer, more than happy to use her tears and her feminine wiles to gain advantages over students. Her final thoughts are how she just doesn’t want to be a loser anymore, a nod to her motivations.
Kill Count – 6. Killed (only just) by Kiriyama. Chigusa
– Chiaki Kuriyama! (Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill). Athletic girl, in love with Sugimura. Gets the moment in the film that makes all male viewers wince; stabbing another boy in the nuts after he tries to force himself on her. Fair result, I say. She dies in Sugimura’s arms after finally confessing her love for him.
Kill Count – 1. Fatally wounded by Mitsuko.Sugimura
– Although very much in the background for most of the film, Sugimura is relevant to the plot, not least when he rescues Nanahara from Kiriyama. He is very much the angel of the film, going from person to person, helping out when he can. He is also secretly in love with a girl called Kotohiki, whom he eventually finds hiding in an old building. Sadly, Kotohiki is not only riddled with fear, but also clutching a gun. You can guess the rest.
Kill Count – None. Killed by Kotohiki. Mimura
– Computer nerd, he leads a small gang who plan to hack into the Battle Royale computer network and disable the entire system, collars and all, whilst attacking the main Government buildings with home made explosives. Kiriyama puts an end to those plans.
Kill Count – None. Kills himself/Killed by Kiriyama. Kitano
– Schoolteacher. He presides over the game, announcing the dead and generally being chirpy in the face of his former students butchering each other. He does have a deep respect for model student Noriko though. Realising that his time is up (his relationship with his family is almost as rocky as the one with his students), he tells Noriko to kill him. Nanahara obliges. Kill Count – 2. Killed by Nanahara. Oda
– Not technically a major character, but I wanted to mention him all the same. In theory, he should’ve been nearly invulnerable, as he wore a bullet-proof vest. It’s a shame he found himself against Kiriyama with a wakazashi and an unprotected neck. It’s also a shame that he couldn’t play possum for just a few minutes longer. He is (inadvertently) important to the plot though, as his vest saves Kiriyama on numerous occasions in the future, allowing him to continue his killing spree.
Kill Count – None. Killed by Kiriyama. Plot
Perhaps not technically a B-movie in the conventional sense, I thought this film earned a review on the basis of how you could sum it up to someone who had never heard of it before. Japanese Schoolchildren With Guns Killing Each Other.
Based on a controversial novel of the same name, Battle Royale is set in a historically parallel Japan, who became a major totalitarian state after defeating America during WWII. Despite (or more likely, because) of this tyrannical way of ruling, kids no longer respect the adults in society and so the Government has had set up a special game to try to ‘cure’ unruly children in schools. Every year, one random class from one random school is picked. They go to an island, along with a couple of wildcards. They are armed and they are given three days to kill or be killed. Last one standing wins.
None of this is really explained in the movie, but I have read the novel, so I am adding a bit of back story so that some of this makes sense.
Cut to the present. Another year, another class. After a brief prologue showing a previous winner clutching a bloodstained doll and grinning maniacally, we are shown the two characters we are rooting for. Nanahara has had a troubled childhood, with his mother leaving him and finding his father’s hanging body. Here is a kid with a good heart needing some parental guidance. Noriko is a model student who apologises for being late and wants to study. Her fellow students do not however, and we witness an entire class playing truant and a student (Nanahara’s friend, Nobu) slashing teacher Kitano in the butt with a knife. Kitano accepts his as part of the anarchy of youth and simply limps to a sink and washes his hands of his blood.
Guess which class has been picked this year. Noriko, Nanahara, Nobu and the rest of the class are on a coach and believe they are going on a field trip. At some point during the trip, gas is pumped into the coach and their new teacher (who seems to be overwhelmed and intimidated by the students) is butchered. They wake up, appropriately in an old school. In the corners of the room are two strangers, the suit-wearing Kiriyama and head-scarf wearing Kawada. The room fills with soldiers and Kitano, who gleefully tells them how they have been picked for this year’s game. To show he is not messing about, he throws a knife into the forehead of a student who insists on whispering whilst he is talking.
The class settle down to an insanely chirpy video detailing the game. They are on a deserted island. (The video claims that the previous inhabitants have been ‘evacuated’… yeah, right.) They are wearing collars that carry explosives and can be remotely detonated. The collars measure their pulse, their position on the island and (it turns out) they also carry a microphone to pre-empt any attempts to fool the game. The collars will also be detonated if a student enters a Danger Zone. Danger Zones are primarily to stop students hiding or camping on the island and to make the playing area progressively smaller as the game goes on. New zones are announced every hour and once that area is red, it cannot be entered.
Whilst all this is going on, Nobu takes exception to the unfolding events. The belligerent youngster gives Kitano just the motive he needs to avenge his torn buttock. He activates Nobu’s collar which blows his jugular all over his friend Nanahara. From this moment on, Nanahara decides to protect Noriko after looking at a photo of the three of them in Nobu’s pocket.
The video goes onto explain that the students will all file out one by one with gaps between them to allow them to run away from the school. They are given equipment bags with food, water, a map and a random item, which could be anything from a heavy weapon like a shotgun, to something utterly useless.
One more thing. Should the class think about getting together and not killing each other, the collars of living students will activate after the three day time limit. If there is more than one student alive, everyone dies. Bit of a bummer if you think you’ve killed everyone, but someone you shot twenty four hours ago didn’t actually die and is still crawling around somewhere on the island.
The game begins. Students immediately start adopting different tactics. One student attempts to hide outside the school and pick off others as they leave using his random item – a crossbow, to no avail. Some try and broker for peace; two students who attempt to do this using a megaphone are immediately gunned down. Others simply go for the kill. Kiriyama is one of these, as is Mitsuko, who goes straight for the girls who shunned her from their school cliques. Some simply go mad, like the student who tries to kill Noriko and Nanahara whilst reciting algebra to himself. He is killed by Kawada. Even our hero, Nanahara, accidentally becomes a killer when he is involved in a struggle with another student. As the two roll down a hill grappling, the axe somehow ends up deep in the attacker’s brains, something that is witnessed by another female student with repercussions later on.
After much bloodshed, the remaining characters settle down into distinct groups. Mitsuko and Kiriyama are the dangerous characters. Noriko and Nanahara team up with Kawada after stumbling across his hideout. During this time, we learn that Kawada is a previous winner of the game, who had to fight against his own girlfriend who was in the same class as him. Mimura, a friend of Nanahara, and his small gang are busy making an audacious plan to hack into the computer network of the game, disable everything and then attack the school in a truck filled with gas canisters and Molotov cocktails. They have discovered the secret microphone in the neck collars and so stuff the collars with cotton to try to protect their plans. Sugimura wanders about trying to find fellow students. His random item is a sensor that can detect other student’s locations. As a result of this, he is able to find Mimura and promises to inform Nanahara, when he can find him, about Mimura’s idea of storming the school.
Part of the film’s charm is the surprisingly touching love stories that pervade the film. Chigusa, for example, is in love with Sugimura, although he does not know. In a flashback, we see her affection for him as he helps her with her athletics training, cycling behind her with a stopwatch. When the flashback ends, Chigusa realises with horror that she is still on the island. An amorous student with a long-standing crush and a crossbow (remember that?) appears and he attempts to ‘seduce’ her. When he accidentally fires it at her, the arrow grazing her cheek, she challenges him, producing a knife from her bag. In the struggle, she ends up straddling him and stabbing him in the groin repeatedly. The boy’s screams bring trouble in the shape of Mitsuko who guns down Chigusa as she flees. She later finds a remote spot to lie down and die but not before Sugimura finds her. She dies in his arms.
Lets speed this up a bit, there’s a lot to get through. After dispatching of Oda and obtaining his bullet-proof vest, Kiriyama discovers Kawada’s hideout and attacks Kawada, Noriko and Nanahara. Oda is initially shot by Kiriyama but he is wearing his vest (the random item from his equipment bag) and so is uninjured. He lies on the ground for a few moments until he assumes it is safe and then begins to laugh and congratulate himself. A bit too prematurely as it turns out, as Kiriyama is standing behind him unsheathing a small sword. It is a nice touch that, as part of Kiriyama’s attack on the hideout, he stuffs a grenade inside Oda’s decapitated head and throws the head through one of the windows. Noriko and Kawada remain in the house but Nanahara makes a break for it, successfully luring Kiriyama away from them. Nanahara shoots him twice in the chest – to no avail, obviously – and is nearly killed himself but for the actions of… Sugimura! Who is rapidly developing a knack of being at the right place at the right time. Sugimura delivers Nanahara to a group of girls hiding out in a lighthouse. They plan to live for as long as possible and then worry about it all on the final day. Okay, fair enough. He tells the girls to pass on the message about Mimura, before going to look for the secret love of his life, a girl called Kotohiki. Why are all these students picking a scenario like this to confess their love? Isn’t a ‘kill or be killed’ situation a bit late for this?
This group of girls in the lighthouse are basically all paying members of the Nanahara Fan Club, except one girl who witnessed the struggle between himself and another boy that ended with the boy having an axe buried in his head. Remember that? She thinks Nanahara is a murderer and is terrified of him; she takes it upon herself to lace his food that they are preparing for him with poison (her random item). One of the other girls inadvertently eats it and dies and then we have one of the more entertaining shoot-outs with the others all accusing each other in mutual suspicion and finally having a Mexican stand-off. At the end of this fire-fight, the girl who laced the food with poison ends up surviving, but can’t take the guilt of her involvement in the death of her friends. She runs up to the lighthouse and throws herself off the top.
Not long to go now! Nanahara finds Noriko and Kawada after leaving the lighthouse. Just before this there is a strange scene in which Noriko is ambushed by Mitsuko who is, in turn, frightened away by the sudden appearance of Kitano. Since we know that the student’s movements are being monitored and that Kitano has a healthy respect for Noriko, we can assume that he saw trouble looming and decided to intervene. They all agree to make their way to where Mimura is hiding.
Sugimura finally comes to a sticky end, when he finds Kotohiki’s hiding place. Kotohiki is terrified and has a trigger finger and she guns down Sugimura before he can say two words. With his dying breath, he tells her he loves her and to run because the noise of the shots will alert others. Kotohiki is so grief stricken with this news that she fails to take his advice. Mitsuko duly appears and… well… she doesn’t miss.
The noise has also brought Kiriyama to the scene. Here we go! The two most murderous characters in the entire movie going at it! Mitsuko is initially shot by Kiriyama but she plays possum (far more effectively than Oda) and comes back at him when his back is turned, striking him with a lethal blow on the chest with her scythe (her original weapon). Lethal but for the vest, as yet again Kiriyama is able to cheat death. Realising that she has been beaten, Mitsuko is finally pushed away by Kiriyama who pumps several bullets into her. To her credit, she doesn’t go down easily. Japanese schoolgirls die hard!
Kiriyama stumbles across Mimura and his gang as they are making final preparations for their assault on the school, having already successfully hacked the computers and brought the system crashing down. Did I forget to mention that? It’s irrelevant anyway, the next time we see the soldiers at the computers they all appear to be running fine again. Kiriyama murders most of the gang except for Mimura. Out of ammo and out of ideas, Mimura decides that if he is going down, he’s taking this smartly dressed sonuvab***h with him. He leaps to the front of the truck, getting sprayed with bullets by Kiriyama, and detonates one of the gas canisters with the end of his empty gun. The explosion cremates Mimura, destroys his little hideout and appears to engulf Kiriyama.
Noriko, Nanahara and Kawada arrive just in time to see the burning wasteland left by Mimura. From the flames, a figure sits up – Kiriyama. He’s lost his eyes and ruined his suit but he’s still going to try and win this thing. Kawada, honourably (or stupidly) pumps a round into his shotgun, alerting Kiriyama to him. Kiriyama swings around and sprays the area from where the sound came from, hitting Kawada several times. Kawada is finally able to get two good shots on Kiriyama. The first one takes his kneecap off and sends him to the ground. Then, as he is getting up, he aims another shot at his neck-collar which detonates, blowing his head apart. Boy#6 Kiriyama dead. Three to go.
The film ends with Kawada pretending to shoot Noriko and Nanahara, and then deactivating their neck-collars – something it turns out he knew how to do all along, having studied their design after he won the game years before (again, background info not in the film). Kawada makes it back to the now deserted school to show himself as the ‘winner’ to Kitano. Kitano congratulates him, but knows about his past (and his girlfriend) and knows that he almost certainly wouldn’t have killed them both. He pulls a gun on Kawada, which brings Noriko and Nanahara out from their hiding place. Kitano confesses that he has nothing to live for anymore, now that Noriko probably hates him and tells Noriko to shoot him or he will shoot her. He points a gun at her (which turns out to be a water pistol) prompting Nanahara to kill him to protect Noriko, as Noriko couldn’t bring herself to shoot the dysfunctional teacher. There is a final bizarre scene that I won’t spoil for you and the film finally ends with the three of them escaping the island on a boat. Kawada dies of the wounds he sustained fighting Kiriyama and the two lovebirds are now on the run, wanted for murder (wanted for ‘beating’ the game).
As a film, Battle Royale is flawed in many places and has some glaring plot holes. How do the students not know about such a famous, televised game? How does Mimura’s gang get away with their plans for so long despite the microphone collars? A lot of this is explained in the novel, which is a more serious and sober examination of social issues, but the film moves at such a break-neck speed that it is impossible to cover itself completely from questions of the ‘Why did that happen?’ variety. The film makes up for it with lashings and lashings of personality, quirky humour and genuine poignancy. Although most of the characters are fodder, we still feel for them, even though the film gleefully panders to stereotypes; we know in the first few minutes who the survivors are going to be and that everyone else is irrelevant. Yet moments such as the very end when the survivors are sailing away from the island that still contains the bodies of their classmates are genuinely moving ones.
The point is, anyone can enjoy Battle Royale, whether you want to put your thinking hat on, or you want to watch Japanese school-kids running around with machine guns trying to massacre each other. The film is difficult to find in the US (not, as legend has it because it is banned but because Toei refuse to distribute it). If you can obtain it, try to get the Tartan Asia Extreme 2002 edition. Although it doesn’t come with the special features of the others, I am reliably informed that it does have the best Japanese -> English translation.
Oh, one more thing, in case you didn’t grasp it. Japanese schoolgirls die hard! Things I Learned From This Movie
- The recovery time from gas that makes you unconscious is roughly the same as recovering from being knocked out cold by a wrench.
- All fathers should be considerate enough to commit suicide in bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms (so the child who discovers his body doesn’t have to vomit on the floor or on their clothes)
- It takes between ten and twelve bullets to take down a Japanese schoolgirl. Even then, it is worth pumping another ten or twelve to make absolutely sure.
- Never ask someone with an axe in their head if they are ok.
- Never tell someone you are fine when you have an axe in your head.
- When trying to seduce a girl, one of your opening lines should NOT be ‘You’re still a virgin, aren’t you!’
- Schoolteachers hate mobile phones.
- NEVER talk when your teacher is talking. Especially when he is a marksman with a throwing knife.
- Tell your girl you love her now. Don’t wait until she is pointing a gun at you. Stuff To Watch Out For
For the record, there will be no RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A SCHOOLCHILD!
You’ve probably grasped that by now. However, we will kick off with…
2mins – RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A SCHOOLTEACHER!
12mins – That knife clearly wasn’t in her forehead when he removed it.
18mins – When you say ‘notified’ their parents, I presume you mean ‘killed’.
30mins – Hah! Looks like she’s pointing a lightsaber.
34mins – Did you really just ask him if he was ok? And you, with the axe in your skull.., do you really think you are fine? Oh! Here comes another one… Whoa! You are a crap shot my friend. Put that thing down and stop wasting the bullets on fresh air.
45mins – Explosive recipe!
62mins – That didn’t work! Aim for the head you fool!
71mins – A moment for all you Tarantino fans.
99mins – RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A MOBILE PHONE!Quotes
Niida: “I’m in love with you! For real! From before!”
Chigusa: “Wow. Great. Wash your face and try again. If you survive.”
Niida: “Wait, you’re a virgin, right?”
Chigusa: “P*** me off… God, did I just hear this idiot right?”
Mitsuko: “Die, ugly.”
Video Girl: “We have randomly selected weapons to put in your kits, so you might get lucky and you might not”
(Picks up a very large fireaxe)
Video Girl: “Ooh! This one is SUPER lucky!”