How Fukasaku's 'Battle Royale' mirrors existing Japanese anxieties.
"In the late Nineteenth Century the Japanese minister of education declared that schools were not run for the benefit of the students but for the good of the country." (Chang, Iris. 1997) But how does Fukasaku's 'Battle Royale' mirror existing Japanese anxieties?
In Japan, a feeling of uncertainty came after a period of remarkable economic security. During the 1980’s Japan was an unstoppable power in the global economy which brought prosperity to a large number of the population and stability to the Japanese government. The disintegration of this economy in the 1990’s wielded a negative effect on the ‘collective self’ of Japan. According to Yumiko Iida, Japanese corporations of the 1970’s to 1980’s “operated within a shared illusion of a family-like corporate culture that …provided employees with a sort of corporate identity” (Iida, Yumiko. 2001). With the collapse of the economy, these workers lost their sense of identity privately and in the public eye. With the loss of this collective identity came public violence, most notably that of the Japanese cult and terrorist organization Aum Shinrikyo founded in 1984 by Shoko Asahara which gained international notoriety in 1995 with the sarin gas attack on a Tokyo subway.
Another major impact on Japan was the U.S. military occupation from 1945 to 1952. Following the end of this occupation, many directors, such as Honda Ishiro (Attack of the mushroom people, 1963) and Tanaka Tokuzo (Kwaidan, 1964) created films with a multitude of intricate, political, societal and ecological anxieties as well as the struggle to establish a comprehensible and definite Japanese national identity (McRoy, Jay. 2005).
The horror genre is one where the emotive responses of the audience run parallel to that of the characters and the threat towards the characters reflects that which is directed towards the audience. Accordingly, the horror genre best portrays the predominant mood of Japan after an era of US occupation, private insecurity and escalating public violence.
Battle Royale (2001) by Kinji Fukasaku is an apocalyptic film that portrays these anxieties in a distinctly Japanese way. Fukasaku’s dystopian slaughter places a chosen class of students on an isolated and heavily guarded island, where they are ordered by the Government to fight to the death in a three day highly publicized spectacle. A key aspect of the film is the ‘zero-sum’ attitude that dominated Japanese aggression in the early twentieth century. During the period of Japanese political expansion, diplomacy was regarded by the government as a ‘Zero-Sum’ game, in which one country could only accomplish its aim at the expense of another. Both educationally and economically, post war Japanese society has always flourished on a competitive attitude.
There is a reason the students in Battle Royale chosen to take part were in 9th grade. Up until that grade students only need to turn up to class to advance to a higher grade, however, by the 9th grade students must compete in nationwide exams for placements into more respected schools. During this time students face an abundance of emotional pressures often resulting in suicide. Fukasaku portrays the competitiveness of the ‘game’ with the students who commit suicide in order to escape their fates. Another scene which represents this is when Motobuchi confronts Shuya and Noriko and repeats an algebra equation while announcing his intention of surviving the game in order to get in “to a good school”. Fukasaku is holding a mirror up to harsh reality of the Japanese educational system. After the Japanese commercial and military expansion the school system operated like military units. Expanding on the title, Iris Chang says “In the late nineteenth Century the Japanese minister of education declared that schools were not run for the benefit of the students but for the good of the country. Elementary school teachers were trained like military recruits, with student –teachers housed in barracks and subjected to harsh discipline and indoctrination”. (Chang, Iris. 1997) A wave of violence among students in the 1980’s encouraged the government to respond by hiring teachers skilled in Karate and Judo.
Kitano represents the state and the system. He plays on the vulnerabilities of adolescents whose personalities have already been affected by negative features of the state, family and the schools aggressive competitiveness. Kitano and the authorities themselves have no intention of playing by the rules that they themselves have come up with which implies a fault at their end for the way things have played out. The government created the Battle Royale and the rules that come with it but they blatantly disregard them. This is portrayed when the student first wake from being drugged on the bus. While Kitano is explaining the rules he kills two students before saying “Sorry, it’s against the rules for me to kill, isn’t it?” The first acts of aggression between the class and the system are conducted by the adults. Firstly with the woman who knocks Shuya out on the bus when he wakes up and the rest are initiated by Kitano. By killing these students, Kitano is not reinforcing the idea of controlling youth violence, but instead he is showing the class that they must obey a hypocritical generation. He also teases the students saying “Let’s be friends” to a group of students creating an uneasy comfort as he clearly thinks little of them. This illustrates both that Kitano seriously thinks of the Battle as a game and it gives an eerie insight into what is to come. Not only has Kitano turned the BR Act into a real game, the rest of the country has turned it into public spectacle for entertainment purposes. Another portrayal of the government’s violence is the ‘danger zones’ on the island. Every few hours Danger Zones are explained to the students which they mark off on their maps. In these zones, between certain times, the necklaces around the student’s throats explode. This is to make sure either one or none of the students survive past the three days. It may be against the rules for the older generation to kill the students but the operation still kills them by detonating the necklaces. This will also be done if more than one student survives the game in which case all remaining students will be killed sending a message that if the students play by the rules they will be killed and if they break the rules they will also be killed.
Another negative aspect of the game, created by the government in order to stop violence is that every student in the chosen class is introduced to violence whether they are aggressive or not. The winner also must be introduced to a massacre of violent sadism which can have very damaging effects on adolescents. This is deliberately portrayed in the opening scene as the mass of journalists and photographers crowd the truck carrying the winner of the previous game, a young girl covered in blood, holding a teddy and just smiling at the crowd. The Battle itself is contradictory, establishing compulsory violence in order to prevent it. This is portrayed in the lighthouse scene where a group of six girls have gathered in hopes that they will survive. They immerse themselves in domestic tasks and chat as a way of forgetting their current situation. One of the girls has rescued a boy, Nanahara, and is letting him sleep in a locked room. This representation of denial demonstrates that not all the students wanted to take part in the violence. One girl is suspicious of Nanhara’s arrival and poisons food meant for him that ends up being eaten by one of the six girls which causes all of them to open fire on each other due to suspicion and fear. The safety of the lighthouse was violated from the inside which would only have happened in situations of extreme fear and nervousness. This shows that the student’s reactions to confrontational situations differ to what they would normally have done to resolve the issue in reality so the girls would not have been so violent only for their unique position and imminent deaths.
Fukasaku shows many reasons for the teenagers acting out in violence. Many of the characters refer to their fathers throughout and their relationships with their fathers seem to shape the way they behave on the island. After the suicide of Shuya’s father, he says everything went ‘crazy-I didn’t have a clue what to do and no one to show me either.” It was his father’s last encouraging words, scrawled on toilet paper, “go for it Shuya, you can make it” that encouraged him to continue on with the game as to not fail like his father. Shuya personifies the desertion of the older generation of the younger. Fukasaku is portraying the need for communication between the generations in order to prepare them for the adult world. For the generation growing up and experiencing the insecurity of their elders at a time of economic decline, they had nothing to look up to.
Another aspect of the film that reflects Japanese conditions is that of the characters themselves. Some decide to trust each other and fight together till the end like Mimura and his friends who attempt to hack into the military system on the island in hopes that they will “escape...together”. His unifying manner contrasts that of Motobuchi, who fawns over Kitano in an attempt to gain individual survival. Mitsuko is the most dangerous female student attaining the second highest kill total. When she introduces herself to her first victim she holds a torch under her face to appear intimidating but later asks “Why is everybody picking on me?” revealing a hidden insecurity. Her dying words “I just didn’t want to be a loser anymore” implies she is a victim of school bullying and was taking revenge out on her tormenters. Fukasaku is showing reasons for aggression and hostility in youths.
Samara Allsop wrote that ‘Battle Royale’ painted a “bleak picture of Japan on the brink of social anarchy”.(L. Allsop, Samara, 2002) After an era of many social anxieties such as the collapse of the economy, U.S. Military occupation and public violence among youths Japan lost its sense of identity and collective self and needed a way of expressing their societal concerns. Japanese directors in the 1960’s created films that portrayed these social and political concerns. The horror genre is one that best represents the Japanese mood after a period of turmoil. ‘Battle Royale’ by Fukasaku is a film that holds a mirror to some Japanese concerns, mainly the competitiveness of the countries educational system, youth violence and out of control governmental dominance. Once a student hits the ninth grade, the education system becomes very aggressive often resulting in suicide among the students. Fukasaku portrays this in the many suicides of the students during the battle. Kitano is a representation of the government and its uncontrollable discipline. He breaks the rules of the battle before the students have even heard all the rules. Fukasaku also reveals how the BR Act is damaging to young minds in the opening scene. He is expressing how the BR Act came into effect to put a stop to violence yet it enforces and makes it compulsory at the same time. He portrays the younger generation who have been deserted by the older which he feels results in the rebellion towards adults. The characters portray many Japanese conditions with some trusting and vowing to survive with friends and others who fight for their personal survival. With the use of inimitable brutality and bloodshed, representations of the Japanese system in different characters and the miscommunication between generations, Fukasaku illustrated some of Japans main societal concerns of a system beyond social morality and a generation unequipped to take the reins.
The DVD cover
So I'm not accused of Plagiarism :)
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L. Allsop, Samara, Challenging global stereotypes with the constructs of a contemporary Japanese Slasher film, The Film Journal, www.thefilmjournal.com/issue7/battleroyale.html, last accessed 25/02/12
McRoy, Jay. Japanese Horror Cinema, Edinburgh University press, (2005).
Measure, Tom. Battle Royale in Midnight Eye: The Latest and best in Japanese Cinema, www.midnighteye.com, (2000). Last accessed 9/02/12
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My Rating of a very Brutal Film:
Battle Royale DVD
Why 5 out of 5:
I chose 5 stars for this film purely because its so flawless....the cinematography is amazing and visually stunning throughout the film.
The theme is starkly realistic even though its portraying a dystopian future. Its comment on media and violence is also very harsh, the media will cover anything of value and the more sensationalist the better, which is exactly what happens in Battle Royale...
Children killing other children, now that is a scary thought. Yeah there have been films where children have killed but not to this extent, to see some of the the year 9 class actually enjoy the game is very unsettling and uneasy.
All in all, its entertaining but not with the numbing-ness of most Hollywood films, nope, this will slap you face and make you think :)
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