Killer Kids: 'Battle Royale' Turns 20

'Battle Royale'Credit: Toei Company
The kids are not all right. They're murdering each other. 

In the year 2000, a movie came out that was so controversial that some countries refused to release it. Even the United States couldn't get a copy. People were illegally downloading it, trying to find prints, and everyone on the Internet was talking about it. 

Battle Royale is a Japanese action-thriller directed by Kinji Fukasaku, with a screenplay written by his son, Kenta Fukasaku, based on the 1999 novel by Koushun Takami. It stars Tatsuya FujiwaraAki MaedaTarō Yamamoto, and Takeshi Kitano. And it changed the way we look at young adult stories across the globe. 

The film follows a group of junior-high-school students who are forced to fight to the death by the Japanese totalitarian government. They're sent to an island, given weapons, and strategize against one another in brutal fashion. 

At its heart, the movie was about the divide younger generations felt from the older ones. It was telling the story of cannibalizing each other while the old get to enjoy the benefits of life. It's anti-authority. It's angry. And it's about how art can change the world. 

The movie was a huge hit in Japan and became a cult classic everywhere else. While it never played wide in the United States, its influence is easily identifiable. The Hunger Games basically borrowed its entire concept, and Kill Bill has a direct homage, with the casting of Chiaki Kuriyama as the ball-and-chain villain. 

In 2010, Empire ranked Battle Royale #235 and #82 on their lists of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time."

In 2009, Quentin Tarantino praised Battle Royale as the best film he had seen in the past two decades, saying, "If there's any movie that's been made since I've been making movies that I wish I had made, it's that one."

It's not just the influence in movies, but how things are talked about. Just the term "battle royale" comes from this movie and has been used to describe sporting events, political debates, games, and every other fraught competition in between.  

Tragically, Kinji Fukasaku died of prostate cancer before he could finish the sequel. His son Kenta Fukasaku took up the directing mantle. Battle Royale: Requiem was not as big of a hit as the original, and was criticized for its anti-American tendencies. But as we look back on the travesty that was the war in Afghanistan, the movie seems even more prescient today. 

The legacy of Battle Royale is solid. That might be because it has survived several attempts to remake it and to translate it to different mediums. It's gotten to live on as the champion of its own fight. One for relevancy, eyeballs, and one whose message is eerily prescient for each generation that's come since. It holds our leaders and older generations responsible for not creating the beautiful world the children were promised, and for making the younger people pay the price for it. 

Let us know your experiences and thoughts in the comments.      

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This is one of my all-time favorite films, probably top 5.
However, the term “Battle Royale” does not come from this movie. It’s a term that’s been around for centuries. Webster puts the first known use of the term as 1671.

September 30, 2021 at 4:08PM

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Nate Ford
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