Battle Royale (Japan, 2000), the gleefully gruesome splatter satire of teenage nihilism, adult paranoia, and social sadism, was released in Japan in 2000 to big success and instant cult status. It was a 21st century version of a fifties youth gang drama, rooted in the adult panic at the sudden rise of youth violence in Japanese society, but was too close to the real-life events of Columbine High School for American tastes. It took the release of The Hunger Games to get this high-school-kids-fight-to-the-death thriller an American release.
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, the madman of Japanese yakuza cinema, from a novel by Koushun Takami, you could call it “Rebel Without a Chance”: a wicked social satire that blends Lord of the Flies, Massacre at Central High, the social commentary of Peter Watkins, the excess of Japanese manga, and the culture of nihilistic video games. Takeshi Kitano, the Japanese comedian who became an international superstar as an implacable gunman in a series of violent gangster films, takes on the adult role as a bullied high schoolteacher who has his idealism pounded out of him. He gets his revenge by overseeing his own 9th grade class thrown into the arena, or in this case dropped on an isolated tropical island and provided with weapons, and he takes a little too much pleasure as he demonstrates the effectiveness of the bombs that have been strapped to their necks.
Similarities to The Hunger Games, which plays the gladiator games as a form of punishment, repression, and control by a tyrannical dictator, begins and ends with the premise. This savage social satire revels in the brutality and gore and plays it for dark comedy and gallows humor, a teen melodrama gone feral as cliques fall apart under fire and young love is literally under the gun. Which means the audience for this spectacle is limited indeed, but for those with a taste for sanguine satire it should hit the spot.
In Japanese with English subtitles.
Also available: Battle Royale 2 (2003), which was begun by director Kenji Fukasaku but completed by his son, Kenta Fukasaku. Sadly, it fails to come close to the madness of the original. But should you choose to judge for yourself, go ahead and queue it up!