a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, April 17, 2006

Battle Royale

So I read the Japanese novel "Battle Royale" for a production company over the weekend.

For anyone not familiar with it, "Battle Royale" tells the story of 42 15-year olds in a fictional Asian country, who are taken to an island as part of a government experiment, where they are each given a random weapon and told that they must kill each other, because only the sole survivor will be allowed to leave the island. There are a bunch of other rules too, geared toward making sure they move around a lot and can't escape.

The book was made into an almost-legendary Japanese movie, well-known because it is so violent and because it has never been officially released on DVD in the United States.

I haven't seen the movie, but the story in the novel works extremely well, with the writer exploring a lot of different aspects of the tale, as well as the reactions that the kids have; only a few turn into real killers, with the rest trying to survive, though misunderstandings along the way cause more than a few people to kill each other.

It would be a great, dark movie that would probably find a mass U.S. audience.


Would a movie in which forty 15-year-olds die ever be made in this country? Would it be too controversial for someone to try it?

Even better, should a movie like this be made? Is it the next extension of violent video games, something that we should try to avoid? Is that why this hasn't been released in the U.S.?

It's almost too easy to say that the movie would be a bad thing, except that the story does such a good job walking a fine line between violence exploitation and a thoughtful examination of what would happen in this scenario.

Just thought I'd run it up the flagpole, see what people think.


At 10:27 AM, Blogger Milehimama said...

I agree with you that 40 15-yr-olds dying is a little out there for mainstream America. Besides which, where are you going to find 42 talented 15 yr olds to act in the movie? How am I going to get my fries if they're all over at the studio?
But do they have to be 15 yr olds?
Surely a few minor adjustments would work, especially as in Modern America people ACT like 15 yr olds up until the age of 30 or so. Maybe you could get 42 liberal arts majors instead?

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally a new vehicle for the cast of Dawson's Creek...

Seriously, I almost think it's the role of filmmakers to pose issues for reflection. Is everyone able to diferantiate between a fictional essay on reaction and relationship, and "the movie said it's okay to whack my friends" is most likely a resounding no. At the same time, is there any difference between a flick like this coming out and the thousands of college kids debating these social issues in classes? I say the only difference is exposure.

A good story needs to be told.


At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Steve said...

There would be an outcry, no question, though I think the outcry over this film being made in the US would not be because the 15 year olds die, as much as the fact that it would be the 15 year olds killing EACH OTHER (as opposed to, say, a goalie mask-wearing slasher.) As such, it may be too controversial for a major studio to touch.

Should it be made? I think it depends on how it is handled. Having both read the book and seen the original film, (the book IS better, but the movie is also very good) the story is not just a means of doing violent things to 15 year olds, but a very thought-provoking examination of how differing types of kids (geeks, jocks, etc.) put into that situation might react. How (and how fast) do they come to terms with their situation? Do they decide to play along or to try and beat the system? How do they go about doing it. If a US production were to lose the thought provoking examination of the above made possible by the story's premise and simply glory in the grisly demise of 40 15 year olds, then I don't think it would have much, if any, value. If a production company took the more cerebral approach, however, and they found some good actors, it could be made into a very original film that would be discussed on a number of levels for years.

PS- I have always understood that the reason that "Battle Royale" had not been made in the US was the exorbitant rights-fees being asked by the Japanese company which owned them, not the inherent controversy presented by the material.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger William said...

Sounds like it's very close to Lord of the Flies. I just looked it up on Amazon and there are many books and volumes. Some graphic novels. What is the definitive book? Battle Royale, Volume 1?

At 12:18 PM, Blogger citygirl said...

I'd have no problem with a film like this. Just because it features leading characters who are teenagers doesn't mean it has to be a film for kids.

My real question would be in the remaking of it. Do we really need another American redo of a Japanese film? Can't we come up with any ideas on our own anymore?

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Tom said...

I think I still have the original and the sequel on DVD around the house somewhere. I liked the original, the sequel not so much. I can't imagine an American company making it ten years ago, but post-Columbine and its own 'sequels' plus the Final Destination flicks equals an available and willing US market.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

Watch the movie. There IS an NTSC region 1 disc which has been distributed in the US. Likewise, there is a sequel that is available.

There is also an english language manga of the story.

This movie speaks to so many things:

- reality tv.
- Columbine.
- class / social standing in high school.
- parents giving up raising their children in society, and expecting teachers to do so.
- pure love.

To not make this movie would be to skirt all these issues. That would be a shame.

At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Zach said...

The original movie is incredible. Far more than a cheesy horror pic.

I think that the question as to whether America is capable of handling the concept alone is where this debate is really interesting. I understand that movies are a business and if the US can't stomach the picture, it will be a financial failure, but it's a little sad to see filmmakers concerned over whether they are going to be protested out of the marketplace. Make a good movie and all the negative publicity will only drive ticket sales.

Beyond that, there is a powerful message in the story that can be directly applied to today. Are we willing to be cattle led to the slaughter by the "adult world"? It is important to question authority. Especially when they're telling you to kill people.

This is a great story and it really should be seen by American audiences. I hope that fear of angry PTA meetings doesn't scare the producers and financiers out of it.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Matt Waggoner said...

It could be made, but it won't. Not for a while. Although I can easily see someone deciding to do it, but with adults instead of kids.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Lost meets Saw. I can hear the (successful) pitch already.

At 1:37 PM, Anonymous phillip said...

I saw it a few years back and remember it as being one of the few Japanese cult flicks that actually lived up to its hype. Funny thing. I just put it into my Netflix Q after reading an insightful review on the Internet this weekend. The reviewer had some interesting views on the pros and cons of changing the fantasty/alternate timeline Japan of the novel for the near future Japan of the movie.

She also pointed out that one of the reasons for the disturbing nature of the movie is that the actors are really children and not a bunch of twenty-something men and women acting like children. I don't think the studios will go for that and yet without that element it'd probably be just another Most Dangerous Game/Running Man riff.

I think the American film that comes closest to BR in terms of tone is Robocop. Maybe a bit more tragic grimness and a bit less dark comedy though. And I suppose anytime you mix kids and guns you can draw connections to Columbine but I think BR is really just satirizing generational conflicts in Japan. But I'm sure it wouldn't play that way in America.

From what I've read, the reason it didn't get released in America is the big distributors didn't want the controversy while the smaller ones couldn't afford the fees.

I thought Tarantino (big surprise) was involved with a remake at one point.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Simon said...

Reminds me of Lord of The Flies. Except there wasn't the deliberate order to kill there.

While the artist side of me says yes, that'd be really interesting, the rest of me is too socially responsible - I mean, have you met any 15-year-olds lately? Like they need encouragement to do something crazy? :)

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Abe Burnett said...

Ah, Battle Royale...Now THAT was an amazing movie. I bought it (had it imported). It was the limited edition, super special version. With shipping it cost me nearly $50! It was worth it though. I watched it with my (then) sister in law. She was only 17 at the time and a typical gen-Y/MTV-rocks person, but she watched the whole thing, riveted.

It was shocking, uber-violent, tragic, and revealing. It reveals where we as a world are going, and to some extent, where we've been (gladiators anyone?).

I've always been saddened that this film hasn't been released in the US. It is one of those films that needs to be seen. Yet, you're right. Here in the US we're so afraid of what we might find if we lift our head from the sand that we encourage crap: mindless, senselessly violent, over-sexed, utterly irrelevant media (films, games, tv). In essence, crap becomes more crap which becomes uber-crap. As a nation we're home to it and thus are--from sea to shining sea--one big latrine.

I really hope that Battle Royale eventually gets released or remade (hell, even with 18 year olds if that'll make it okay). You're right though; it's about as likely as pigs flying any day soon.

At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Chris P. said...

Hey Scott,

The reason it was so disturbing is because the kids are 15. I could barely watch it, and I didn't care for it very much. (It's available in Canada). BUT -- it would make a mint in America, and would only be helped by the controversy.

I would kill to write that script.

At 11:08 PM, Blogger Random Brandon said...

Everyone has written some good points. Like someone mentioned before, Lord of the Flies comes to mind. Then again the whole "put a diverse group of characters in a life or death scenario" comes to mind. Some were mentioned, Lost, Saw, and The Running Man. There are also the arena style fighting movies, like Bloodsport and Enter the Dragon.

I do think it could be done here in America. Keeping as close to the original, it would almost have to be independent like Basketball Diaries, Elephant, or The Devil's Rejects. Only thing is, how could a small production with a small budget get forty-two 15 year olds? And where would you film this? Hawaii?

It also could be done with the obvious changes. Make them a little older...high school graduates, college kids, or all adults. It could also be done with all different kinds of characters. Kids, adults, teens, even a few senior citizens. Men, women, all different races, lifestyles, classes. Like Chris said, it would be Lost meets Saw. A true Darwinian 'survival of the fittest.

Of course, some attention should focus on who put them there. I haven't read or seen Battle Royale, but someone mentioned it was a government experiment. Is it a sanctioned project, or off the books? And what about a member of the program that has second thoughts and wants to stop the project? Hmmm...The Island just came to mind.

Intersting topic Scott.

At 11:59 PM, Blogger Eleanor said...

I think it should be made. There are some valuable messages about life and thinking for yourself in there.

At 2:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There have been several notable attempts by screenwriters to pitch a Battle Royale remake here in the United States. All have failed. There was a time when completed scripts were online and available for viewing, but it's been awhile so I don't know if this is still the case...

The forums on had an extensive discussion on this topic and, if memory serves, some excerpts were posted. At any rate, it might be worth checking out.

Personally, I'd love to see it done.

At 2:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 7:37 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Brandon --

In the novel I read (which was a 615-page English translation), the whole government experiment thing is sort of vaguely handled; ultimately, the idea is supposed to be that it is teaching people not to trust each other, to help stave off rebellion. Though it's unclear how this works since everyone really learning the lesson dies (the battle royale isn't being broadcast or anything), and if anything the whole premise should just make people more rebellious.

From what I heard, the film reworks this so the idea is that they are trying to discourage bad behavior among students, though I'm not sure how this works either.

The crazy thing is that in the book, this isn't something they do to one random class of 9th graders every year. It's something they do to FIFTY random classes of 9th graders every year, on fifty separate islands. Yikes.

At 8:17 AM, Blogger marc bernardin said...

A friend of mine saw a screening of Silent Hill and came out repulsed. "They burn children," she said. "You can see their flesh puckering. Why would anyone make a film where you can see that?" My response to her was "Why would anyone make a film where an image like that, one so disturbingly primal, was put to such poor use?"

If Battle Royale is about something, the way that Lord of the Flies, or Grave of the Fireflies, or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer is, then it should absolutely be made in to a US film, complete with children killing each other.

Funny, this may be the only instance in which America's sex/violence dichotomy is reversed: We have no problem seeing pregnant teens on TV or in films, but we'd have a problem seeing them kill each other...and, usually, we're just fine with the explodo.

At 11:11 AM, Blogger Milehimama said...

Then again, Ender's Game is finally getting written, and in the book Ender is very young and even the oldest kids are around 12 years old. Of course, they are killing aliens, but there are also some deaths to children by children at Battle School.
I wonder if that's why it's been in Development Hell for so long? Anyone know how that is being handled?

At 6:28 AM, Anonymous Tony Peterson said...

I think it could be made into a great movie! Lost Boys meets Red Dawn experimental type scenario with maybe a rich/bored person... the wheels are a spinnin'.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Robot Porter said...

Okay, let's get real world:

I spoke about this movie with one of the producers who passed on doing a remake of the project: His stated reason, he didn't want to be responsible for any copycat behavior.

Later I learned another studio had decided to bite the bullet and remake the thing. But when I got in touch with them, they too had chickened out, for similar reasons.

BATTLE ROYALE is a great movie. It's a satire on youth violence that ranks right up there with A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. A remake could be amazing.

But so far Hollywood is too scared to even try.

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing no one has commented on is the intended audience for a Battle Royale remake. The characters are 15 but the story, with it's psychological depth and probing of human nature, is aimed for adults. So who would see the movie? 15 year-olds who will not take the psychological aspects of the story seriously or adults who are not inclined to see a movie with forty 15 year-olds in it?

And the point about not being responsible for copycat behavior is, sadly, a valid one. It would only take one copycat incident to rain disaster upon those responsible for making the film.

Lastly, how many people would see this movie for its serious content and how many would see it because kids killing kids is "entertaining"? I fear too many would be motivated by the latter.


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