“Brutal, resonant, but badly concluded”
I fell head-over-heels in love with Koushun Takami’s sociopolitcal thriller about teenage bloodshed—Battle Royale. The novel was an intense and poignant experience. The final line hit me hard—It was as if the writer chose to address me, the reader, directly after five hundred pages and say “and so this is why you have read those five hundred pages.” It reminded me of why I read stories, and why I want to tell them too. I wanted desperately to hug the two surviving characters—I still do! Even once I had finished it, I couldn’t put the book down.
I came to the film with high expectations—partly owing to my experience of the book, but also the reputation of the film itself; it is considered a cult classic.
The first half of the film is absolutely breathtaking. It is fast, violent and touching. But then somewhere in the middle, it falters. I understand that a novel functions differently from a film, and that in the process of adaptation certain elements must necessarily be changed, sometimes significantly. I most often appreciate the changes. And I try, whenever possible, to consider the film as an entirely separate creature with it’s own unique life, but perhaps I was just too attached to the specifics of the novel in this particular case.
There are some very unnecessary dream sequences concocted for the film that have no basis in the book. These dream sequences supposedly pay-off at the end of the film during its extended coda. The novel ends with our two protagonists on the run. And the film almost ends there, but then launches into three separate “requiems.” These were absurdly artsy and, for me, added nothing of substance to the story. I am very much interested in form and style, but the older I get, the less impressed I am by conceptual flourishes, particularly where they don’t add insight or emotion to a story.
The ending of the novel is clear and defined with our hearts tethered to the continued plight of our two surviving protagonists as they go on the run, and embark on a life of constant hiding—The End. The film brings us to that same point, but then lapses into its strange dream-scape other-life and all of the emotions that have built up for our protagonists get dissipated as our attention is drawn to absorbing and processing the poetry of the film’s meditative final three scenes which deal with the memory of all the characters who have been lost.
I’m an attentive audience. I’ve been paying attention. I realize a lot of friends were lost along the way to survival, and can appreciate the emotional toll on the souls of the survivors. Just let me take that home with me, okay? Endings are so important. I am reminded of a brilliant line from Life of Pi—“What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell.” Indeed. Please don’t clutch at me so relentlessly. Just let me say goodbye in my own way.
Battle Royale (2000)
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku (screenplay), Koushun Takami (novel)
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto