Battle Royale, a high-octane thriller about senseless youth violence, is one of Japan’s best-selling and most controversial novels. As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one “winner” remains. The elimination contest becomes the ultimate in must-see reality television. A Japanese pulp classic available in English for the first time, Battle Royale is a potent allegory of what it means to be young and survive in today’s dog-eat-dog world. The first novel by small-town journalist Koushun Takami, it went on to become an even more notorious film by 70-year-old gangster director Kinji Fukusaku.
Ok, HennHenn, four stars. How does a graphically violent novel about kids killing each other get four stars? Let me tell you how. (Caution: spoilers ahead)
Takami did a great job at pulling the reader into the lives of so many characters. Many of the deaths felt like a punch in the gut (especially Shinji and Hiroki). So not only were all of these characters dying, but you felt somewhat attached to most of them. The three main characters were interesting, realistically portrayed, and sympathetic. (Although having so many people in love with Shuya was a little annoying after a while…)
Shuya is constantly trying to save everyone, but his efforts usually backfire in some way. Shogo, the pragmatist, saves him from himself several times. Saving more than themselves wasn’t realistic, and it didn’t happen. The ending was also realistic, with Shuya and Noriko on the run.
Shuya’s epic grenade catch: enough said
Ok, so how did it stack up to the cult movie? I thought the movie was a bit of a disappointment, though I should probably expect this of movies based on books. The characters were fairly flat in the movie, so the deaths weren’t as emotional. Also, they cut out Shuya’s grenade catch and Noriko’s one and only kill. For me, the book was worse violence wise than the movie was. Some of the more violent deaths in the book weren’t shown, and I guess I can have a pretty vivid and gruesome imagination…