A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, January 15, 2018

Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000)

Yuko Miyamura in Battle Royale
Shuya Nanahara: Tatsuya Fujiwara
Noriko Nakagawa: Aki Maeda
Kitano: Takeshi Kitano
Shogo Kawada: Taro Yamamoto
Kazuo Kiriyama: Masanobu Ando
Mitsuko Souma: Kou Shibasaki
Takako Chigusa: Chiaki Kuriyama
Shinji Mimura: Takashi Tsukamoto
Hiroki Tsugimura: Sosuke Takaoka
Yukie Utsumi: Eri Ishikawa
Yuko Sakaki: Hitomi Hyuga
Training Video Girl: Yuko Miyamura

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kenta Fukasaku
Based on a novel by Koushun Takami
Cinematography: Katsumi Yanagijima
Production design: Kyoko Heya
Film editing: Hirohide Abe

In my brief and admittedly superficial exploration of Japanese cinema, I have often been struck by how postwar filmmakers take a rather harsh attitude toward the generation born after World War II. Even so hip a director as Nagisa Oshima paints a rather jaundiced picture of wayward teenagers in films like Cruel Story of Youth (1960), though suggesting that American influence at least helped push Japanese young people into delinquency. Masahiro Shinoda's Youth in Fury, made the same year as Oshima's film, focuses on the student riots against the Japanese-American mutual security treaty, suggesting that the political impotence of the young is to blame. An older filmmaker like Keisuke Kinshita, in The Young Rebels (1980), blamed the rebelliousness on parents, a familiar scapegoat. And then there's Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale, which subjects the problem of turbulent youth to what we might call a final solution: mutual extermination. In an era plagued by depression and unemployment, the government passes a population-control law: Each year, a middle school class is chosen and sent to a remote island where they are forced to fight to the death. If you're thinking this sounds a lot like The Hunger Games, have another drink. In fact, Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games trilogy, the first book of which appeared in 2008, has said that she never saw the film or read the 1999 novel by Koushun Takami on which it was based. Her claim is plausible: Battle Royale stirred up so much controversy in Japan over its violence that it wasn't released theatrically in the United States until 2011, partly because American distributors were scared off by memories of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Fukasaku's film is in fact like a bloodier, more barebones version of The Hunger Games movies (Gary Ross, 2012; Francis Lawrence, 2013, 2014, 2015). It's also funnier and scarier because it has been shorn of the Olympic Games-style spectacle of  the American movies. Instead, we get a "training video" in which a ditzy instructor, a parody of Japanese game show hosts, explains the rules: Each player gets a bag of supplies that includes a "weapon" -- ranging from a semiautomatic rifle to a paper fan -- and they are all fitted with monitoring collars that will explode if they try to remove them, as well as if the game ends on the third day with more than one survivor. The film, written by the director's son, Kenta Fukasaku, doesn't waste a lot of time on character development, except for two principal combatants, Shuya and Noriko, who fall in love along the way. There are also a trio of villains: Mitsuko, who relishes the thought of killing her classmates, and a ringer, a "transfer student" named Kazuo Kirayama, who is really a psychopath brought in by the sadistic director of the game, the schoolteacher Kitano, to spice things up. There's another supposed transfer student, Shogo Kawada, who is actually a survivor of an earlier game, but he turns out to be a good guy, seeking revenge on Kitano for his girlfriend's death in that game. Aside from these characters, most of the players are nondescript, except for the computer geek, Shinji Mimura, who manages both to hack into the game's system and to construct a bomb he plans to use to take out the game headquarters. There is much vivid killing in the film, but it's paced so fast, and the characters are mostly so undefined that, except for the fact that these are kids killing kids, it's easy to get caught up in it all. It's not surprising that it's one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite movies.

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