“May the odds be ever in your favor.”
I guess I’m a little behind on this, but I recently re-watched both of these movies and decided that I was time that I weigh in on the two most similar films to a more recent series that everyone loves. (I’ve only the seen the first of that series and enjoyed it, but I just haven’t gotten around to the others.)
Here are a couple of films to watch if you’re not so hungry.
BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
Directed by Kenji Fukasaku
Written by Kenta Fukasaku
Based on a novel by Koushun Takami
There’s just something about seeing children kill each other that brings out the…um…I don’t even know how to finish that sentence. It’s awful. It’s horrifying. Kids should never know violent death, especially not at the hands of each other.
But in movies, it can be kinda fun, in a disturbing sort of way.
Battle Royale is about just that: Children are thrown together on an island and told to kill each other. Only one can survive. If more than one survives, they’re all killed by the big collars they have on.
Each one is given a weapon. Some are good (sub-machine gun), and some are bad (pot lid). They were put here by a teacher who had had enough (Takeshi “Beat” Kitano) and a government that is afraid of the children.
They have too much hope. Too much energy. Too much future.
It’s time to take them down a notch or eight.
Banned in many countries (including the US) for years, Battle Royale is now considered a modern classic. The social commentary about the destruction of the family unit, the harshness of the Japanese school system and the overbearing government control are worn on the film’s sleeve and make the carnage a little bit easier to take.
Watching children kill each other will, of course, always be heartbreaking. And this film is no different. It’s dark. It’s twisted. It’s bleak. When a middle schooler is forced to tell the object of his affection how he feels just because there is no more time left to him, it’s awful. And it’s made even worse because he just doesn’t quite have the words to say it. All he can muster is, “You’re so cool.” It hurts my heart!
But with all of that going on, the film still manages to be genuinely funny. Dark humor, to be sure, but seriously laugh out loud funny. When Beat announces the deaths over the loudspeaker in a happy, sing-song voice while saying, “You’re really getting to it!”, it’s hard not to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
And, really, that’s what Battle Royale is: Absurdist commentary. Or is it? Could this sort of thing really happen? Could the government be so afraid of the upcoming generation that it finds a way to take away their power and their voice? Maybe not force them to kill each other, by any means, but could they pit them against each other in other ways?
If you’ve already seen the movie, read the book. It’s even better. (I haven’t read the manga or watched the anime series. Man, this story was a phenomenon in Japan.)
THE RUNNING MAN (1987)
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser
Written by Steven E. de Souza
Based on a novella by Stephen King
If, for some reason, you don’t like Arnold Schwarzenegger, this movie is probably where that came from.
Every kill is preceded and followed with a really silly one liner. The entire movie seems to be tongue in cheek. It starts pretty much right in the middle of the action with no worries about things like character.
But, somehow, it manages to be one of the most prescient films of the 80s.
The Running Man is Ben Richards (Der Ahnold), a former cop who refused to kill hundreds of unarmed people when ordered to do so. His superiors throw him in a military prison, which he escapes from with Yaphet Kotto and Dweezil Zappa. He meets the underground (led by Mick Fleetwood, playing himself, I’m pretty sure) and kidnaps Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso), who turns him in.
Of course, she starts to believe his story after he’s captured and put onto America’s hottest game show, The Running Man, hosted by Killian (Richard Dawson in the role he was born to play). The object of the game, of course, is to run away from the “Stalkers,” people who are sent in, one by one, to kill Richards and the people sent in with him. Meanwhile, the entire country is watching and betting on how long Richards will last. They’ve been made to believe that he killed all of the people that he actually refused to kill.
But this could never happen, right? We would never allow editing to tell us that people are good or bad without checking the facts, would we? And we would never take pleasure in watching other, real people go through hell…would we? We would never exploit another person’s pain for our viewing enjoyment. Would we?
Well, just ask Michael Jackson. Or Brittany Spears. Or Ben Affleck. Or any of the hundreds of “stars” from any reality tv show.
The Running Man isn’t really a good movie. But it is fun, big and dumb. Underneath, though, is a heart that is made of mirrors. And we look pretty ugly in those mirrors.