It doesn’t get much more violent, or awesome, than the original Battle Royale (2000).

More than a year after recommending You’re Next to members of the Ultimate Action Movie Club, I’m back with another horror film which is perfect for action fans. Today isn’t Halloween, but every day is a good day to look at Kinji Fukasaku’s classic Battle Royale.

Released in 2000, the film is based on the eponymous novel and manga, and follows a classroom of unruly middle schoolers who are abducted by the State and forced to fight to the death in cruel game. In this dystopian universe, the Japanese government has chosen to fight fire with fire. Every year, the Battle Royale programme forces delinquent students to compete with each other on a remote island until only one of them is left standing – all of it under the eyes of the media, of course.

While many just see Battle Royale as the inspiration for the Hunger Games saga, action fans will be glad to know that there is more to the film than meets the eye, and it can be enjoyed for its reckless fighting and gruesome kills.

UAMC Reviews ‘Battle Royale’ (2000)

As you can guess from its last-man-standing plot, Battle Royale’s pace picks up very quickly, and the carnage never stops – side note, but owing to the film’s sensitive content (we are talking about teens killing each other after all), it is best reserved to mature audiences. In the movie, teenagers are assigned weapons at random – which means that a pot lid or an automatic gun could end up in your bag.

As expected, things go downhill quickly and awesome fighting ensues, as students have to choose between killing or being killed. Seeing Takako Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama) brutally dispatch a boy who harasses her with a switchblade strike to the crotch convinced Quentin Tarantino to cast her as the mythic Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill four years later! The film has an ensemble cast, but mostly follows the kind-hearted Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), who tries to protect his wounded crush, the shy, cookie-baking Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda). They get some help from Shogo Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) – a transfer student who has already been through the games once, and falls into the “badass with a bandana” category.

The trio faces constant threats, ranging from small – a maths wiz – all the way to extremely serious – the machine-gun wielding Kazuo Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando), whose actor gives his best impression of the mix between a soulless psychopath and Johnny Rotten. Being a fan of women who fight, I obviously have a soft spot for class-murderer Mitsuko Souma (Ko Shibasaki), who does not hesitate to turn on her classmates the second she gets the chance, and puts her sickle to good use! 

How Ultimate is it?

The movie is a cult classic for a reason: some death scenes will stick with you for a while, such as the insane lighthouse shootout, which sees friends becoming paranoid and taking each other out. The frontier between gore and absurd has rarely been so thin! The violence of Battle Royale is totally over-the-top, but it is never meaningless: the film is one big metaphor, which denounces extreme competitiveness in the Japanese school system, the generational divide, and what the country does to its children. Twenty years later, it has not aged a day and still feels painfully relevant.

When it comes to editing and scenery, Battle Royale also offers some beautiful shots, making the most of its natural environment (though finding a good quality copy can prove a little tough). Kinji Fukasaku’s genius is most palpable when it comes to storytelling: we have all seen an action film filled with NPCs who got dispatched one after the other, with each seeming more bland and disposable than the next.

Battle Royale avoids this trap by developing the personality of a few core students and managing to keep its editing clear and seamless: somehow, we never feel lost in the island – or in the action. Most teenagers are still given some form of characterisation, and while some death scenes are nothing short of grotesque, others feel much more dramatic and melancholic. Controversial since its release, Battle Royale remains a brilliant exploration of violence and horror. Action fans will no doubt enjoy its iconic fight scenes, and the suitable amount of blood spurting out at every turn!