Fukasaku thrills

Rating: NNNNthe strangest thing about kinji Fukasaku's bizarre blending of Lord Of The Flies and Survivor is that there are.


Rating: NNNN


the strangest thing about kinji Fukasaku’s bizarre blending of Lord Of The Flies and Survivor is that there are no TV cameras present. His slightly futuristic Japanese society would have eaten up the televised action as Survivor With Guns.Fukasaku could not only have mocked “reality TV” (my favourite oxymoron, replacing jumbo shrimp), but he could have sent up Japanese game shows, too. They’re all about how much degradation people are willing to endure for money, with the occasional soup├žon of physical danger. The set-up for this film would be perfect.

Battle Royale sends 42 high school students — and a couple of ringers — to an uninhabited island, turns them loose with weapons ranging from Uzis to binoculars and presents them with a challenge. The last player standing gets to go home. If more than one player is left, all the survivors die.

How could they not put this on television?

Indeed, how could the people who set it up, apparently a government agency, not salt the island with cameras so they could monitor the game’s progress?

With the class teacher and deadpan master of ceremonies played by Takeshi Kitano, and the degeneration of class spirit as old cliques fall apart and ancient resentments surface, Battle Royale offers a curious mix of cheap, bloody thrills and sentimentality.

It would be a better film if it didn’t cheat the beginning and produce an ending that refutes the 100 minutes of psychosis that precedes it.

That said, Battle Royale is a comedy with a killing joke — it never cheapens the emotional weight of its premise, and the comedy comes not from the action but from the absurdity of the incongruities. Japanese schoolgirls in their uniforms gunning each other down is more funny-peculiar than funny- ha-ha.

With Fukasaku’s astonishing camp classic, Black Lizard, Battle Royale opens a retrospective of the director’s work at Cinematheque Ontario. Unfortunately, there were no prints of other Fukasaku films available for advance screening except for an unsubtitled copy of Battles Without Honour & Humanity, his 1973 yakuza film that delivered such a relentless torrent of images for the 20 minutes or so I saw that I had to give up.

There seemed to be an awful lot of plot, and I don’t speak Japanese.

johnh@nowtoronto.com

BATTLE ROYALE directed by Kinji Fukasaku, written by Kenta Fukasaku from the novel by Koshun Takami, produced by Akio Kamatani, Tetsu Kayama, Masumi Okada and Masao Sato, withTatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamomoto, Kou Shibasaki and Takeshi Kitano. 113 minutes. A Toei production. Screening at Cinematheque Ontario (AGO, 370 Dundas West), Saturday (November 24), 4 pm. 416-968-FILM. Rating: NNNN

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