- Last Updated: 12:22 PM, May 25, 2012
- Posted: 10:15 PM, May 24, 2012
Schoolhouse glock. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Running time: 114 minutes. Not rated (graphic violence). At the IFC Center, Sixth Avenue at Third Street.
A grimly futuristic society, a group of kids fighting to the death: déjà vu, eh? Japan’s bloody “Battle Royale” actually got there before “The Hunger Games” — released in 2000, it became a global cult hit, and is finally getting a theatrical debut here.
Despite the conceptual similarity, the two films really are dystopian apples and oranges: This one’s a thoroughly campy exercise in teen melodrama and Grand Guignol gore (how gory? it’s one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies), the other a straight-faced action pic.
In the then-future of 2002, Japan faces an economic crisis and the rebellion of the country’s youth. The government cracks down, mandating that one ninth-grade class will be selected each year, its members forced to kill each other off until there’s a lone survivor. As prologue, we see a phalanx of TV cameras following the deranged-looking winner of the previous B.R. (curiously, the film’s only mention of media coverage).
A busload of drugged field-trip-bound students wake on a remote island, where they’re informed by a highly disgruntled former teacher (Takeshi Kitano) of what’s about to go down. A few dissenters are made examples of, a perky introductory video is shown and the class is booted into the wilderness, armed with food and some type of weapon (one unfortunate fellow gets a pot lid) and fitted with explosive collars.
From here on, it’s basically a series of sketches that end with someone — or several someones — dying a shrieking, graphic death at the hands of a classmate. Social priorities hang on till the bitter end: Last words tend to be “I always had a crush on you” or “Why are you such a bitch?”
Stylistically it’s a beauty, with khaki-uniformed waifs fighting for their lives to a crashing classical score.
Sure, the late director Kinji Fukasaku doesn’t seem to care too much about plot (those “danger zones” never materialize, and the rationale for the whole thing is pretty murky), but his “Battle Royale” is a delightfully twisted romp: The odds, in this game, don’t seem in anybody’s favor.