So, BATTLE ROYALE is a Japanese film based on a Japanese novel which later became an incredibly popular Manga. The story roughly goes, in an alternate Japan to keep teenagers in line the state passed a law requiring one class a year to be sentenced to a deserted island for three days where the students must kill each other until one survives or no one survives. At least that’s what the Hello Kitty-like opening video says. You can see why there are comparison’s to THE HUNGER GAMES. Why there aren’t more people making comparison’s to Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY is beyond me. Read people, says the guy who didn’t read either book.
To be honest – I had only heard of BATTLE ROYALE because there’s always someone cooler than me who happens to be into Manga, J-Pop, and Akira Kurosawa before I am. I’m 1 for 3 in caring about those (it’s not J-Pop).When she turned me onto Wong-Kar-wai, I listened. When, at the time, she told me the film was banned in the US, I was interested. Not as interested as some to bootleg it or torrent it or really make an effort, but interested. My DirecTV box blew up this week – so I had some time to kill.
Not gonna lie, I didn’t love BATTLE ROYALE because what could have been this really interesting idea about why we need to exterminate 40 teenagers a year — (waiting for this to be a part of the Republican platform) — isn’t explored. While THE HUNGER GAMES has this socio-political message about keeping the masses down and separatism – it gets muddied up with bubble gum romance. But it does veer closer to home by at least televising teenagers killing each other ON TV!
Which gets me to what I had heard of and liked, along with THE LOTTERY, — SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS. I’m sure I saw a trailer for this at a film festival or it was mentioned by Roger Ebert somewhere, but I finally saw it on VHS years later. According to the Blockbuster in St. Albans, I never returned it along with some horrible Romantic Comedy, which I explained I would never steal a VHS to disguise taking something this awesome. Also, don’t confuse this with the boxing show with Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard. One has a bad ass gay character and the other is what I’m talking about. Do I need to explain Blockbuster… or VHS? Anyway…
THE CONTENDERS has a similar “lottery” idea but its hook was that it’s supposedly a marathon of a reality TV show. Our obsession with competition shows had morphed into “randomly” choosing people, arming them and TAG you’re it — on TV. Starring Brooke Smith – who I love from like every indie film in the late 90’s and like from being shoved down a well in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – as a pregnant woman who can “escape” the show if she win one more time. Her former lover is dying and only one of them can survive…or can they? Like most good movies, there’s some layers to the film if you do some research that make even more fun, but that’s for another time.
Check out this extended opening to the film below. There are a few grainy trailers online – none of which I could embed here. Luckily, the entire film is available for streaming on NETFLIX right now – as is BATTLE ROYALE if you feel froggy.