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childhood's end

You've heard of it. The movie is infamous, and I tell you here and now that the infamy is well-deserved. Battle Royale is a disturbing film. To paraphrase Ursula K. Le Guin, "it is a work of art, and if you watch it, you will be changed."


The premise is easy. Forty-two kids, one class, are brought to an island and told that all but one of them will be dead within three days. If more than one survives at the end of three days, then they will all be dead. The authorities explain that there are no rules, give them a bag containing map, compass, flashlight, a pitiful supply of food, and a random weapon, and send them out.

At that point, the social order ceases to exist.

The rest is hard to explain. Battle Royale is not a meaningless splatter film. There is a message, driven home by the relentless killing. Actually, I had a very peaceful feeling after I finished watching it. It's a deep and meaningful movie. Seriously.

Part of the fascination is that many of the kids don't adjust quickly enough. They search for their friends, trust each other, and die in droves. They've just gotten out of middle school, and their every action proclaims that they are still children.

However, in Japan, compulsory education ends with 9th grade, and the true realities of competition set in for every schoolchild at that age. 'Battle Royale' seems ludicrous, but it's no more than the extension of current social truth: survival of the fittest.

The movie is very disturbing.

And, God help me, it's funny. Sometimes, there is nervous laughter as you realize your favorite characters are doomed. Sometimes, there are giggles in appreciation of the direction, which I think is basically flawless. Sometimes, though, it's because one of the characters has made a joke, or some pratfall has occurred, and it's a refreshing break to laugh, like a ray of sunlight through the clouds.

Everything about the movie is well-done. It's a realistic film, in the sense that there are virtually no special effects as we understand the term today. The acting is amazing (of course, Beat Takeshi is always amazing. but no one is unconvincing. I never found myself thinking, "Wait a minute, no 10th-grader would act like that").

Each student has a name. I could rattle them off for you, if you'd like. Their names are all announced; their faces are all distinct. Named and numbered. Some of the characters are physically painful to watch. They cannot possibly survive, but they're such nice people. . .

And that's the impact of the movie. Forty-two of them, and they're all doomed. Corpses that haven't stopped moving yet.

staff

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