Battlelines on ROYALE (was Thoughts on The Ring)
Wed Apr 4 11:26:25 EDT 2001
>Apart from Tony Rayns' pieces in SIGHT AND SOUND and THE INDEPENDENT >where
>else have their been negative attacks on BATTLE ROYALE, Jasper?
I seem to recall a rather heated debate on the merits of BATTLE ROYALE on
this very list earlier on in the year, with Mark Schilling amongst a number
of others none too plussed with Fukasaku's latest. This makes for two
prominent English-language writers on Japanese film dismissing it as being
nothing more than violent and pointless.
Admittedly the editor of S&S stepped in with a comment along the lines that
the film was not quite as bad as Tony Rayns had suggested, though this was
not much of a defense for the film.
I disagree totally with Tony Rayns' points on a number of grounds. Firstly
that the film makes "makes no sense as a social allegory". Is it even meant
to? I thought of it more as a ridiculously fantastical dramatic scenario
reducto ad absurdum: an extreme hybrid of BIG BROTHER and LORD OF THE FLIES
taken to its illogical extremes, which considering BIG BROTHER's status as a
gameshow come docu-soap taken to illogical extremes is perhaps not so
ridiculous a social allegory as Rayns suggests. Fukasaku is pitching a
group of adolescents into an extreme situation to investigate the group
dynamics of them, as portrayed by a director who of course spent his own
adolescence in the Second World War. I don't know much about what it's like
to be a teenager in Japan, and now that I think about it, I doubt Mr Rayns
does either, but if "its view of teenage life is almost geriatric" then I
guess we might be able to find some leaway given that Fukasaku-san is now
The second point that its "very small beer as a thriller" is highly
subjective, as it consistently fared well in the audience vote at the
Rotterdam Film Festival and was greeted with a rousing round of applause
when the curtain came down on it. "No inventive deaths"? "No real emotional
kick"? Well, I personally found it a very fast moving and entertaining film
and the way Fukasaku handled the characteristation to be particularly
effective given that it ultimately had to cover 40 characters within a
standard feature length (though probably Rayns' hasn't seen as many FRIDAY
13TH derivatives as me, so might have been expecting more), something that
Syd Field would strongly advise against in his Bible for scriptwriting
If Rayns is correct, that "it seems unlikely to enjoy more than a strong
opening weekend here before word-of-mouth kills it", this is because films
like this in the UK are ultimately targeted at a bourgeois arthouse audience
in search of cultural oddities and not at the same audiences as for its
Japanese release - teenagers (I've no doubt that even given the brouhaha in
Japan over its 15 certificate, it'll be over 18s only allowed in Britain.
It'll also, as I have mentioned previously, probably only get a week's run
in the ICA cinema, a tiny 200-seater in the heart of London frequented by
The attitude of a recent Sight and Sound writer in his review of AUDITION
bears out this attitude perfectly in his view that Miike's film fails as a
social critique on the role of women in Japanese society. Well, you might as
well criticise PSYCHO for failing to provide enough musical song and dance
interludes. AUDITION is a horror film, that's all it was ever meant to be.
Why should the fact that it has subtitles mean it's intentions should be any
more highbrow than that?
If viewers and reviewers are going to try and make sweeping generalisations
and extrapolations about a nations culture on the basis of a handful of
films from that country then heaven help us. I've moved around the globe
quite a bit, and am constantly worried by this - French films released
abroad depicting exagerrated notions of Frenchness for foreign viewers;
Iranian films lauded for their 'political content' funded by Italians etc.
Is the reason why Tony Rayn's prefers the far less entertaining GOHATTO to
BATTLE ROYALE? Why should our expectations of a film be any greater just
because it has subtitles? BATTLE ROYALE may not be great art, but that makes
it no less enjoyable.
I'll take this moment for a quick plug to point out that next week's update
of Midnight Eye will feature a long interview with Kinji Fukasaku on the
subject of BATTLE ROYALE.
Midnight Eye: Cult Japan Cinema
Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at http://www.hotmail.com.
More information about the KineJapan