Friday, December 30, 2011

The Endless Envy: Battle Royale At 12

Initially had zero plans to write up anything regarding Thursday night's screening continuation of Cinefamily's unprecedented weeklong engagement  of Kinji Fukasaku's classic swan song, Battle Royale, but it didn't take long for the thought to spring forth to do so, especially due to the events happening around the film. Upon arriving, and subsequently waiting in line outside the retrofitted/resurrected Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax near downtown Los Angeles, I found myself surrounded by an impressive turnout for a foreign film, let alone one that has been such a phenomenon of the internet for nearly twelve years as of this event. One would think that such popularity in internet years would experience some kind of dropoff..Not so here in the slightest. But once the clock hit around twenty five minutes before the doors would be opened to allow us entrance to the movie house, something happened that came very close to causing such numbers to be decimated in quick measure.

 We were notified by Hadrian, the proprietor that their digital projector had apparently burnt itself out, and that they were being forced to delay the screening by roughly an hour as a reploacement was being rushed our way from Echo Park! And to be completely frank, this was a moment where part of me felt compelled to walk away. Having owned the film in multiple formats, and having already seen it in a large audience, there was little reason keeping me from soldiering on and waiting another hour to watch a film I had already seen surrounded by complete strangers. Initial plans was to go to this screening with perhaps another to bounce ideas off as BR is often want to do whenever I watch it with company. And since there was little else but perhaps the mere opportunity to see what form this version of Battle Royale would be, there was little keeping me motivated to stay.

Then I overheard people around me, and it hit me..After twelve years of almost complete internet saturation (or so I had long imagined), there were many in attendance who had not seen the film. And that alone, was enough to double-motivate me to stay. There is something inherently thrilling about the idea of a BR cherry. It has been so long since I myself could ever count myself as one of those. The film has within it, and incredible power that almost always leaves a lasting impression on those who see it for the first time. Much like the shockwave that rushed through the kids within the first thirty minutes of the film, the audience is often confronted with the book/film's wildly perverse premise, and are immediately either repelled, or inescapably transfixed by it. The film remains utterly incapable of leaving anyone inert, or indifferent. And the thought that a room that was at least 40% comprised of those new to the experience became quite the attractive thought. Add the influence of no traditional codes regarding alcohol in a movie theatre, and possibly even another Mondo Mix created by the folks at the Cinefamily, things just became that much more potentially exciting.

As hoped, the Mondo Mix was their Xmas themed one, and damn if it wasn't terrifying. And not for the scenes culled from the Silent Night, Deadly night film series, but for the inclusions of Tanglefoot & Shouji Tabuchi. (You can look them up...To explain here would kill the fun.)

And then came the new projector, and a crisp, high-definition presentation of...

                                                Battle Royale: Special Version

My night wasn't so much shot, as it was more mildly disappointed in the sense that someone either didn't check the difference between versions, or has some kind of preference for a version of a film I believe to be inferior to the original cut. For those unfamiliar, Battle Royale's smash hit status in Japan prompted Toei to invest in additional scenes to be shot for a rerelease edition of the film several months later. And the footage largely centers on a recurring flashback of a basketball game which is supposed to reinforce the relationships in the film, as well as offer a slightly more heartfelt denoument to the brutality exhibited on the island where the majority of the story takes place. The problem is that pacing gets hurt immensely by this footage, and it often elicited laughs from nearly everyone I have ever shows it to over the years, and deservedly so. Much of the added footage grants little to no real meat to the proceedings, and often overdramatizes many of the film's already hyperbolic emotions. They are more reminiscent of some of Fukasaku's son (and BR screenwriter) Kenta, and his great weaknesses as a writer which almost completely marr the deeply inferior Battle Royale II. It doesn't help that many of the actors were seemingly moving on from shooting the film when they were called back in, sporting slightly older looks in keeping with the fact that the movie uses real teenagers, who will go through the expected growth spurts, making these  scenes look double-awkward to the extra attentive. All we get with Special Version are these flashbacks, some "enhanced" CG bloodshed, and a few additional shots that add nothing to the narrative to the point of being distracting. In all, it's a much lesser version of the movie that should never really be the first way a newbie should experience such an amazing piece of work.

So do I still love the film? Emphatically, yes. It remains one of my personal favorite movies despite its myriad of flaws. There is so much passion, energy, and rage at work in this film that never washes away, mainly due to having among the most entertaining opening thirty minutes of any movie I have ever seen. Taking such an across the board kick to the head philosophy as this film adopts as a backbone of the plot, while still not completely sanitizing some of the more grotesque elements of Koshun's novel. It remains a brilliant intermingling of post Slasher film, seishun eiga, and sports drama with a dash of political horror that holds little sacred, and common sense in less regard. Being a product of its time, the often reeling impact of protracted economic recession, and near panicked impasse between the young and old continues to shine brightly in Japan as the elderly population continues to grow at an increasingly accelerated rate, and youth violence has reached untold highs. One can easily see a film like this being blamed for such an increase, but upon closer inspection, Fukasaku's film deviates quite a bit from the novel, in that the use of "weapons" serves as a much more potent metaphor for what it is we take with us as we move into adulthood despite our childish desires. It takes a more responsible approach, despite perhaps making the Kitano Takeshi character a little puzzlingly forced. Despite this, Fukasaku's message remains beautifully clear for future generations. Whether it be education, a hidden talent, or the ability to empathize with another person, these are BR's greatest weapons. What happens with them may not always bear intended results, but they often are what grant us greater meaning in the world. The film's questioning of both how brutal it is to be a kid, and how so many so-called grown-ups seem to have not learned anything while imposing so much on the coming generations is at the heart of matters, and it remains as powerful as ever.

Special Thanks To VCinemashow & Cinefamily for making last night possible!

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