In the near future, Japan has become a police state that has to combat civil unrest in new ways. The Battle Royale Act is passed, which enables teachers to take their troublesome classes on a school trip to an isolated island where the teenagers are told to kill each other until only one of their number is left standing. Let the games begin...
This savage science fiction satire was written by Kenta Fukasaku, the veteran director Kinji Fukasaku's son, from the novel by Koshun Takami. It takes the old "Most Dangerous Game" plot of many films before and expands it to its logical conclusion - instead of one man hunting down another for sport, take about forty people and set them against each other.
The schoolchildren are given a variety of weapons ranging from machine guns and pistols to knives and axes all the way down to pot lids and binoculars. They each have a collar containing an explosive device, so that if, by the end of three days, there is more than one person alive, they will all die. They are monitored by the army and their dispassionate teacher (the superb Takeshi Kitano), and there are no rules, just kill or be killed. There are onscreen updates for every murder, letting us know how many are left alive.
Faced with this crisis, the kids act in different ways. Some can't face the horror and commit suicide; others throw themselves into the game enthusiastically, becoming vicious killers. There are those who form alliances for survival, for example the gang of hackers who try to take over the army's computers. But they all soon learn that no one is to be trusted.
The schoolyard relationships between the teenagers are amplified by the game, so that just as bullies gang up on their victims to finish them off, alternatively victims of bullying see their chance to get revenge on their tormentors. Friendships are tested to their limits (the lighthouse sequence is one of the nastiest ever put onto film) and petty rivalries can be fatal. Even schoolgirl (and schoolboy) crushes are a liability.
The extremes of the authorities' sense of discipline and the competitive society are sent up with a straight face, and Battle Royale could just as easily be viewed as a violent action movie (and it is very violent indeed). In spite of the ingenuity of each killing, it can't help but grow repetitive, and by the end whatever message it has is jumbled.
Aside from its sentimental lapses, this is a brutal, unpleasant film that nevertheless is compulsive viewing thanks to the audacity of its simple plot and skillful handling, and there are some sick laughs in there for those with a strong sense of humour (like the demonstration video). Listen for: an unusual use of classical music.