Battlelines on ROYALE (was Thoughts on The Ring)

Jasper Sharp jasper_sharp
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 
over 70!

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 
Japanese students).

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.

Jasper Sharp

Midnight Eye: Cult Japan Cinema

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