Buffy, Battle Royale, and the High School Battleground

Battle Royale (2000)
Dir. Kinji Fukasaku
Starring Tatsuya Fujiwara (Shuya Nanahara), Aki Maeda (Noriko Nakagawa), Taro Yamamoto (Shôgo Kawada), Takeshi Kitano (Kitano-sensei)

First off, let me say that I’m feeling a bit scatter-brained at the moment, having worked all weekend, but hopefully I will be able to stay coherent. I apologize if I ramble.

Thursday’s film was the amazing, the incredible, the horrifying masterpiece that is “Battle Royale”, the plot of which is so simple that I can sum it up in a single sentence:
A high school class is drugged and shipped to a deserted island, where, upon arriving, they are told that the only way to get off the island is to kill absolutely everyone else in their class.
Now that’s a premise.

Last year's winner!

Last year's winner!

“Battle Royale” was the perfect follow-up to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as far as our studying high school as the stage where teenage issues are played out in films and television shows. “Buffy”, in my opinion, gives an accurate depiction of the social interactions that take place in North American high schools; no doubt one of the major reasons that the show lasted as long as it did is because people could relate to the subject matter and the issues being discussed. “Battle Royale” shows the audience something different by transplanting a typical high school class from the “safety” of their familiar school environment into a kill-or-be-killed scenario where they must fight for their very survival. In spite of the cultural differences between North America and Japan, the central point remains the same: high school is a struggle, a battle, even, and Joss Whedon and Kinji Fukasaku have transformed this metaphorical battle into an actual battle. There is, however, one major difference between the battles fought on “Buffy” and the battle of “Battle Royale”. In “Buffy”, Buffy is fighting evil, nasty, supernatural creatures (her demons, if you will), whereas in “Battle Royale”, the students are fighting each other.

The student presentation that preceded the film filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge of Japanese high schools. Anita (whose blog can be found here) described the Japanese high school environment as an extremely competitive one, and mentioned that Japanese culture as a whole has a certain competitive streak to it.
Not mentioned in the lecture was the sukeban or “girl gang” subculture that has apparently caused trouble throughout Japanese high schools since the 1960s. According to Oddee.com, sukeban are “girl gangs, known in Japan for committing acts of violence and shoplifting. Sukeban gangs first began to appear in the 60s, inspired by the gangs of boys known as ‘Bancho.’ Always seen in their sailor uniforms, they would wear pleated skirts that went down to their feet, and would custom embroider their uniforms. The largest Sukeban was known as the Kanto Women Delinquent Alliance, which included 20,000 girls.” This tells us that violence is prevalent in Japanese high schools (perhaps to a greater degree than in North American ones), but what I find really interesting about these girl gangs is that Kenta Fukasaku, the brother of the director of “Battle Royale” and one of the writers, went on to direct a film focusing on the sukeban problem, with the unbelievable title of “Yo-yo Girl Cop”. I’m sorry if this is veering off topic, but I simply must post a clip.

“Yo-yo Girl Cop” is basically about an undercover police officer who is sent to a Japanese high school to infiltrate a sukeban group intent on spreading anarchy throughout Japan. Not having seen this film, I can only hazard a guess at the themes shared by it and “Battle Royale”, but both films clearly deal with the issue of violence in high schools.

According to IMDb, “Battle Royale” has never officially been given a North American DVD release, and states that one of the (rumoured) reasons for this is that the subject matter of high school students killing one another was extremely disturbing to the American public. Understandable, since the killings at Columbine had happened only a year earlier. However, I don’t think that the connections drawn between the subject matter of “Battle Royale” and the events at Columbine are accidental. Rather, I think they were intentional on the part of the filmmakers. After all, they used a similar sort of shock-tactic in the preview for the (vastly inferior) sequel, “Battle Royale 2”.

Did you notice anything familiar about those two falling towers at the end of the trailer? I don’t believe that’s a coincidence.

Before I wrap this up (and I have lots more to say, believe me), I’d like to note that “Battle Royale” contains another example of the angry teacher archetype that I mentioned in my post on the similarities between “The Faculty” and “The Breakfast Club”. Interestingly, the teacher character in this case is named after the actor portraying him, Takeshi Kitano. Also, he so despises the students that he has taken on the duties of the coordinator of the annual Battle Royale between the students. Once again, the teacher is happy to see the students in danger. In an odd sort of twist, Takeshi Kitano was also the host of a show called “Takeshi’s Castle”, or, as it’s better known in North America, “Most Extreme Elimination Challenge”. The television show is, essentially, an absurdist battle royale: a series of obstacle-course-like challenges that eliminates contestants until only a single winner remains. Again, because I simply can’t resist, here’s a clip:

Hopefully, once I’m feeling a bit more collected, I will be able to expound upon the idea I have mentioned in my post about “Heathers” – high school as a social microcosm, and talk a bit more about students at war with outside forces and each other, but I’m afraid that I am far too tired at the moment to do so. It will have to wait until tomorrow.

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~ by sosayeththewatcher on June 9, 2009.

3 Responses to “Buffy, Battle Royale, and the High School Battleground”

  1. I guess I’ll have to do a better job keeping an eye out for yo-yo crime movies in the future!

    As Marissa can likely tell us, the shot of the collapsing towers is indeed a political statement, as are a number of other references throughout the film. Apparently the sequel isn’t overwhelmingly successful, and the metaphor of High School as a battlezone seems to be hammered in with all the restraint of a nail to the head, but hey…

  2. Yeah, ‘vastly inferior’ is a kind understatement.

  3. After seeing elephant, do you still think it was intentional for this movie to come out a year after columbine shootings? You should write that in your next blog- your blog reminded me that the teacher in battle royale reminds me of the SAW man, all those sick challenges he creates to see “whos worth it in the end”. Great blog post.

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