You’ve likely already heard the rumours — forget what you think you know about The Hunger Games franchise since it’s pretty darned blatantly sourced from better film Battle Royale (2000).
Thing is, that’s in turn based on Kōshun Takami’s 1999 novel, and there’s a manga series of Battle Royale that was published from 2000 to 2005, illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi.
But let’s get back to the cinematic outing.
This violent, often wildly hilarious — and disturbing — gem is p’raps not quite so obscure now, thirteen years on, as when it was first released in Japan.
Battle Royale would’ve made a far more fitting obituary for its director Kinji Fukasaku rather than its lesser sequel three years later — which in fact his son Kenta polished off after the director’s death at age 72.
You certainly couldn’t take style, content and inspiration any further a field from Fukasaku, Sr.’s earlier adventure schlock-romp Legend Of 8 Samurai.
So clear your frazzled Hunger Games brain.
It’s a not-too-distant future. Japan is again a fascist state. An arbitrarily-chosen bus full of high school kids are knocked out with sleeping gas, kidnapped, then shipped on to an isolated island — where they’re informed by their embittered former teacher Kitano (‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano) that the only way they will leave said island is by killing all their classmates — or by ending up in a body-bag themselves.
In order to enforce this mandate, each student is shackled with an exploding collar, à la Wedlock, and Kitano punctuates the students’ plight with a well-aimed penknife to one of the girl’s foreheads, thereby launching a battle for self-preservation.
Shuja (Tatsuya Fujiwara, more recently the star of the live-action Death Note franchise) and Noriko (Aki Maeda; she’s appeared in both Gamera and Godzilla movies, did the voice of Yuki in the Studio Ghibli anime The Cat Returns, and worked with Kiichi Nakai in Samurai Gangsters) team up, then are later aided and abetted by mysterious transfer student Kawada (Taro Yamamoto, who appeared in Seijun Suzuki‘s 2005 musical romp Princess Raccoon with Hiroko Yakushimaru from Legend Of 8 Samurai).
There’re some hilarious acting histrionics and amateur execution techniques along the way, and the true stand-outs are Takako (played by Chiaki Kuriyama, a.k.a. Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill: Vol. 1), Kō Shibasaki as the insane Mitsuko, Yuko Miyamura (who does the hyperactive and chillingly genki Training Video Girl and previously voiced Asuka Langley Sohryu in the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion) and — of course — Takeshi Kitano.
While he previously popped up in a not-so-memorable English language role in the Keanu Reeves vehicle Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Kitano was outstanding in his own movies Sonatine (1993), Hana-bi (1997) and Zatoichi (2003).
Here the actor underpins the rancorous teacher — with a ‘pen’ chance for revenge — with a whimsical ease and blasé humour that’s gloriously disturbing.
Some incongruous orchestral music by Johann Sebastian Bach is thrown in for good measure, as well as an overall soundtrack by Masamichi Amano — who previously scored the ultra-violent anime Legend Of The Overfiend (1989).
By the way, last summer I went down the Miura Peninsula not so far from Tokyo.
Well, aside from a day-trip to get some fresh air I was in search of the Tsurugizaki Lighthouse used in Battle Royale, in which some of the kids hole-up before their bloody demise.
I took a swag of happy snaps of said light tower, got sunburned, walked for several hours, and discovered some obscure fishing villages as well as a cliff-side walkway that was more dangerous than fun.
Still, far less so than the plot for Battle Royale.