Battle Royale

Ono Seiko and Aaron Gerow onogerow at
Thu Jan 11 07:03:07 EST 2001

Just a short response to Mark,

>Also, whatever he did thirty years ago,
>however great or ground-breaking, has no bearing on the goodness, awfulness
>or anything-else-ness of this particular film. Critically, it should stand
>or fall on its own merits, no?

>I'm well aware that Fukasaku had reasons for making this film other than
>venting on teenagers, but the results on the screen are what count, are they

This is always a sticky point, especially as a critic.  I, like many 
moviegoers, do not watch films as single texts.  They are always linked 
to other films that are in the same genre, that treat the same theme, 
that have been made by the same director, etc.  Those other films are 
always in our mind when we process a film--we could not, in fact, make 
sense of many films without these other texts (imagine seeing a Western 
without knowing anything about the American West, John Wayne, etc.).  
Criticism, which to me exists not merely as evaluation but also as 
understanding, must take these other texts into account when trying to 
make sense of a film.  Especially in the case of Battle Royale, when much 
of the argument here seems to be over whether there was some 
justification for the bloodshed, or whether it was all gratuitous and 
mindless, knowing how not only Fukasaku, but also other filmmakers 
historically deal with violence is an essential foundation.  Heck, the 
film even cites other texts like educational videos, etc., as targets of 
its critique, and thus makes such comparisons essential in presenting 
itself.  We critics all make comparisons as well, and thus nothing, I 
think, can be judged alone or in terms of "what is on screen."  Because 
so much of what is on screen depends on what is not. 

At the same time, while I can bring in all the other movies I want when I 
evaluate a film, there's no guarantee my readers or your average filmgoer 
will know these.  It's true most of the teens seeing BR will not have 
seen Jingi no hakaba or Okami to buta to ningen, and thus they may not 
read the critique of violence I see in the film.  In other words, their 
experience may have produced different interpretive patterns (though I 
think the film takes some of these differences in account by citing 
contemporary texts).  That's hard for a critic to deal with, and the best 
I can do is to try, when I write, to make my interpretive environment 
clear (citing other texts, offering history, etc.).  Perhaps this is also 
an effort to educate the viewer in new modes of interpreting.

>And what I saw I on the screen was the offing of forty or so
>fifteen-year-olds with a certain bloody-minded glee and, in most cases, with
>about as much motivation and character development as you would find in the
>average stomp-'em-till-they-vaporize arcade game. That, I'm afraid, rubbed
>me the wrong way -- all apologies to Fukasaku sensei and his fans.

I'm just afraid this was not what I saw on screen.  I did not sense that 
glee, and I did feel there was an effort at character development (which 
was, I admit, not always well done, in part because it's hard to develop 
40 characters in a 100 minute movie).  Other people, like my wife, did 
not sense that glee either.  Again, this might just have to do with the 
fact Mark and I have different interpretive glasses based on our 
different backgrounds.  Or maybe not.  But it does show how difficult it 
is to simply site "what's on screen"--since the different off-screen 
baggage we bring to the theater complicates that.  Still, we mustn't 
abandon the text in favor of some all-powerful interpretive liberty.  I 
think we just need to remain flexible and fluid.

But I'm blabbering on....


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