Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Hello Japan!


For the first of Tanabata's Hello Japan! monthly mini-challenges (where we focus on Japanese literature and culture) we were to read or watch something scary, spooky or suspenseful. I opted to watch Battle Royale (Batoru rowaiaru, 2000, directed by Kinji Fukasaku); I fully intended to read the book by Koushun Takami and then watch the adaptation but the best laid plans of men and readers... Now I am not altogether sure whether I will read the book at all, or at least any time soon. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the movie because I did, a lot, but I'm no longer in the mood to read the book.

The premise of the book (from back-cover): Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of 42 junior high school students are taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are electronically collared, provided with weapons of varying potency, and sent out onto the island. If they are in the wrong part of the island at the wrong time, their collars will explode. If they band together to save themselves a collar will explode at random. If they try to escape from the island, they will be blown up. Their only chance for survival lies in killing their classmates. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan - where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller - Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, and a potent story of politics and survival in a dog-eat-dog world. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic.

I can tell why this has become a Japanese pulp (and, I take it, cult) classic as it is intelligent and fun. Yes, I find ridiculously gratuitous scenes of blood and gore humorous rather than scary and the plot more socially interesting than thrilling; think of the staged bloodbath onscreen as Tarantino-esque (controversial, I know, as Tarantino has often been accused of copying Japanese film-makers, but he is the best mainstream example to indicate the style of the film). Classmates are pitted against one another and petty highschool jealousies, resentments and crushes are played out with weapons and subsequent slaughter. It is all about survival of the fittest injected with black humour and some oxymoronic kitsch (the scene where the government's experimental battle programme is explained to the teenagers forced to take part is explosively funny (literally). I enjoyed the running tally of kills plot device (subtitled onscreen) and found this film wonderfully hyperbolic in the tense circumstances; it is powerful in its subtleties and its cultural commentary on a Japan obsessed with youth, fashion and cuteness. Battle Royale should not be taken at face-value as an overblown violent film but as a fantastically exaggerated cultural comment.

Highly recommended.

I wonder how the book compares...


22 comments:

verity said...

Not a film I've ever watched (nor one that appeals to me hugely after reading your review), but I like the idea of the monthly mini challenges focussing on Japanese culture. It sounds like the stimulus gives you a wide range of choice, although I think I'd be stuck trying to choose something. Looking forward to seeing the other mini challenges.

savidgereads said...

I like Verity wouldnt normally race to see this DVD though I may add it to my lovefilm waiting list now after your review.

I do love Japanese fiction and need to read much more of it,.I am sure I have some on the shelves so when start my new browsing phase in November I may just grab one.

farmlanebooks said...

I'm still not sure. I don't think I can laugh at all that gore. I saw a glipmse of it when my husband was watching it and I think I will always find that sort of thing disturbing. I'll be interested to hear what you think of the book if you get round to reeading it.

Steph said...

During my undergraduate degree, I had a friend who was obsessed with this movie and kept trying to get me to watch it... but the concept really freaked me out, and I really didn't want to watch it as I figured it had to be very violent and gory. I think I would be more likely to read the book than watch the movie!

Paperback Reader said...

Verity, I'm looking forward to the future challenges and this first one was fun. I love Japanese literature and culture (especially Japanese cuisine) so I think I am going to enjoy them a lot.

Simon, it's worth adding to your rental list (we own it but I hadn't yet seen it).

I love Japanese literature too and hope to read a lot more over the coming months.

Jackie, it is gruesome but in a completely overblown way that isn't remotely realistic. I think I will read the book at some point but I just have too many other things lined up at present.

What struck me strongly during the film was how much The Hunger Games rips it off!

Steph, it is violent and gory but in a completely unrealistic way. I do plan to read it at some point so hopefully that review will convince you.

verity said...

Cuisine! Does eating sushi count towards this challenge? There is a Japanese restaurant in Oxford which I am wondering about going to - it is very far outside my comfort zone but I have acquired a taste for sushi this year. (Slightly off topic, sorry).

Sophie said...

Ha, this post brought back some great memories of a really fun night during my undergrad degree, when a friend and I had a very bizarre film night watching this and the hilarious B-movie 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' (watch out for the wobbly headstone, and the fact that after a certain point the Bela Lugosi (sp?) character only appears swathed in a cloak because the actor had died and they had to quickly get a replacement...). I had been sceptical about BR thinking it wouldn't be my kind of film at all but I actually really enjoyed it. I understand there is (of course) to be an American remake, but I am now sceptical about what that will be like!!

P.S. Verity: if the Japanese restaurant you're talking about is Edamame then I highly recommend you try it! They only do sushi (yum!) on Thursday evenings but their normal menu is excellent and I have taken friends there who don't normally like much Japanese food and they have enjoyed it. The queues do get long sometimes but they're worth it, although I suggest getting there soon after it opens to avoid them, as you can't book. Ok, promotion over!!

Paperback Reader said...

Well, not this particular challenge, Verity, as we were "to read or watch something scary"! I imagine future challenges may incorporate food or could be interpreted that way... I adore sushi and sashimi so I wouldn't require much impetus to read into a challenge!

Sophie, I wasn't sure it would be my thing either but I LOVED it! I am very sceptical of the intended American remake.

mel u said...

I think I would enjoy bothe movie and the book-thanks for your very good review

verity said...

Sophie (sorry to hijack Claire's comments) - it was Edamame that I was referring to. I'm just not sure I'm adventurous enough to go!

Paperback Reader said...

You're welcome, Mel; I hope you do enjoy them both.

Verity, go! Japanese food is delicious and I always feel so much healthier once I eat it. I really want green tea ice-cream due to a recent post of tanabata's [contributing to own hijack].

verity said...

BTW Claire, obviously I did realise that eating sushi wouldn't do for this challenge. I've never had green tea ice cream, in fact I've never had green tea. Is it nice?

Paperback Reader said...

Green tea is an acquired taste but I love it.

Barrie said...

What a very interesting review! Now, I'll have to go round to read the other mini-challenge posts!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Barrie, thanks for commenting. I'm pleased you found my review interesting. I need to catch up with the other mini-challenge posts too!

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I'm curious on the book as well. It's one of those things that's been confusing me for ages - read Hunger Games first, or Battle Royale.

End result : I've read neither.

I'll try catching the film, based on your review. It sounds interesting, and different.

Paperback Reader said...

anothercookie, I had the same dilemma at first but then I plumped for Hunger Games and was caught up in the series. Although the basic premise is practically an exact match, HG does create a storyline (and post-apocalyptic world) around the exploitative government and there is more emotional investment in the characters.

mee said...

Oh I'm glad you tried the movie! I read the book soon after I watched the movie. The book is better because you spend more time with each character and get to know them (rather than just see them as some nameless schoolkids). I think very highly of the idea and that comes from someone who hates and avoids gore like a disease. I could somehow totally oversee the gore and see it as a genius allegory to life. Great great stuff.

ps: I can't believe that you felt Hunger Games rips it off. That is not cool. (I'm all for Battle Royale of course. And I haven't read Hunger Games. I may not want to now.)

Novroz said...

Battle Royale should not be taken at face-value as an overblown violent film but as a fantastically exaggerated cultural comment.

I totally agree on this one...but it goes for the book not the movie.

I have written my review on both movie and book...the book explains things better than the movie. If I had watched the movie before reading the book...I would think the movie is just another violent movie...fortunately I read it 1st so I can see beyond the movie

Paperback Reader said...

mee, I love your similar enthusiasm and I fully intend to read the book at some point as I had the impression it would delve deeper into the lives of the classmates.

The Hunger Games is a great dystopian young adult novel but the actual premise of the games rip off firstly "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson and the concept of Battle Royale, complete with announcements during the day of who has been killed and the danger zones. It doesn't bother too much as they are each very different but the premise is the same. I found it amusing to point out during the film to my boyfriend "oh, The Hunger Games does that too." I wonder if it was completely conscious on Suzanne Collins' part. To be fair, both concepts are taken from Gladiator fights during the Roman Empire.

Hi Novroz, thank you for commenting. Obviously I can see beyond the movie also -without yet having read the book- and can appreciate its message, as otherwise I wouldn't have been able to describe it as I did.

tanabata said...

When I first heard about The Hunger Games I wasn't that interested since I'd seen Battle Royale a few years ago and thought it sounded very similar. But somehow I've come round, and have since read The Hunger Games and want to read the book, Battle Royale too at some point. You've even kind of made me want to watch the movie again since it's been so long since I saw it. LOL. I'd also like to take a look at the manga version sometime although it sounds like it's very violent and graphic.

As to verity's question re: if eating sushi counts for the challenge, stay tuned. There will be a food theme in the next couple of months. :)

Paperback Reader said...

Nat, I still have a copy of Battle Royale on loan from the library so think I'll try to fit it in during November. The Hunger Games is very different despite such similar plots (in the first book).

Looking forward to the food theme challenge!