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A look back at Kinji Fukasaku’s brutal film and its impact

Released in 2003, battle royale has become a still underrated cultural icon. It helped, indirectly, launch an entire video game genre while providing the backbone of what made the mega-franchise, The hunger Gamesif successful, although the author might disagree.

Originally a director’s passion project Kinji FukasakuKenta Fukasaku’s son, battle royale delves deep into its memories of a post-WWII Japan, and manages to not only be a fun and thrilling action movie, but also a deeply unsettling treatise on what people can become in dire straits. It draws the line between camp and serious drama in a way so rarely seen in modern movies. Released over 20 years ago, battle royale is just as relevant today as it ever was.


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The Legacy of Kinji Fukasaku

Kinji Fukasaku, who at the time of filming battle royale was almost 70 years old, was a risky choice to make a film about teenagers. Kinji was considered one of the pioneers of the Japanese new wave of cinema. He had mainly made Yakuza-themed films throughout his career, as well as a historical drama and a fantasy film. His ways of making films, once considered genre-defining and mainstream, had begun to lose some popularity. It was his son and screenwriter, Kenta Fukasaku, who first approached him about Royal Battle, a novel by Koushun Takami. Initially seeking only advice, Kenta found himself out of the director’s seat as Kinji found himself personally in touch with the story in a way his son did not.

Although Kinji chose to direct the film himself rather than his son, it always became a cooperative project for the two of them. He would get 9 Japanese Oscar nominations and win three. Tragically, this would be the last film Kinji Fukasaku ever directed. While he was already considered one of Japan’s finest filmmakers – this film has certified him as an all-time great by taking material that seems made for a different generation and having the ability to make it accessible and engaging for any member of the public, regardless of age or nationality. He worked his way to the roots of what it means to be young in this world.

Inspired by a harsh reality

At his age, Kinji Fukasaku might not have been able to comprehend the modern life of a 15-year-old, but he was all too familiar with the drama these characters would experience. In an interview, Kinji had this to say about his connection to history: “In July 1945, we were caught in artillery fire. Until then, the attacks had been air raids, and you had a chance to escape these But with the artillery there was no way out, it was impossible to flee or hide from the shells that were raining down, we survived by diving for cover under our friends… After the attacks , my class had to get rid of dead bodies. It was the first time in my life that I had seen so many dead bodies. As I lifted severed arms and legs, I had a fundamental awakening…all we were had learned in school about how Japan waged war to win world peace. , was a pack of lies. Adults could not be trusted.

The idea that adults cannot be trusted is embedded in the very DNA of the film. It’s an idea that goes beyond language and generation, and something almost anyone can or has connected to in the past. It’s a tragically haunting way to connect with the characters, but it explains why this movie feels so vibrant and alive despite the fact that the director was almost 60 years older than most of his actors.

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Fight for the public to see it

Initially, the over-the-top violence featuring teenagers was met with quite a bit of resistance in Japan. It received an R15+ rating and was considered cruel and amateurish by other reviewers. Films getting harsh ratings isn’t a new practice, but Kinji worried that the audience he made the film for wouldn’t even be able to see it at all. Many believed the film could cause a wave of teenage violence across the country, as critics feared young people would try to imitate what they saw on screen. Fukasaku knew better than that, thankfully, and was able to refute most of those baseless claims. Although young audiences won’t be able to see this film that was created for them, the director has publicly encouraged them to sneak into theaters to see it for themselves. It may have been a little ironic, but at least it helped solidify this movie as “cool” and something people were afraid to miss.

It didn’t take long for audiences to get used to the film. Only a minimal budget of 4.5 million – battle royale would earn over $30.6 million during its multiple theatrical releases. Its impact beyond the big screen is even deeper. With modern films setting unimaginable benchmarks, it’s easy to forget just how successful a smaller film can be outside of box office results.

A following cult

Movies from Japan and South Korea are very popular right now, and there have been some absolute classics recently. Sending a film like this to the United States has not always been easy. While the film may have battled censors upon release, it would find its footing in the digital media space long after release. European audiences were able to see the film in theaters, but it was not officially released in the United States until 2002, but was not widely released until 2011.

Thanks in part to a rave review from iconic filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, battle royale hasn’t left the collective consciousness of the movie world since becoming widely available. It inspired countless other movies, and its frenetic, fast-paced style made it a cult classic that still plays today. Long removed from the tragic inspiration that director Kinji Fukasaku drew on, battle royale had a long and lasting impact, even beyond what Kinji thought possible. Great movies tell a story that resonates when they come out, but great movies tell a story that resonates forever. While other films from non-English-speaking countries enjoy mainstream success in the West, such as Parasite and Roma, you can’t help but feel that battle royale helped open the minds of moviegoers along the way.