With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Sunday, August 06, 2006

ACF 008: Battle Royale in the U.S.A.?

Kinji Fukasaku was a great Japanese director. The last film he completed was Battle Royale, which was released by Toei in 2000. Fukasuku directed over sixty films including the Battles Without Humanity series (a.k.a. The Yakuza Papers), Black Rose Mansion, and Blackmail Is My Business. He died on January 12, 2003 while making Battle Royale II, which was completed by his son Kenta Fukasaku. Now New Line Cinema is in the process of purchasing remake rights for the original film. Lovers of that film, which was never released in the U.S., are pretty much unanimous in their distaste, if not outright hatred, of the idea.

For those not familiar with it, Battle Royale is based on a popular novel by Koushun Takami. Set in the near future at a time when student violence in the schools has become rampant, the story is about a class of ninth grade Japanese students that has been selected at random by the powers that be. They are taken to an isolated island, each issued a weapon and given three days to kill one another until only one is left alive. They are even denied the existential "No!" because explosive necklaces have been place around their necks. Refusing to participate will result in the necklace exploding. This will also be the case if there is more than one survivor.

If acquired, New Line is looking to have the U.S. version produced by Neal Moritz, who served in that capacity on the Fast and the Furious series and other films and tv shows, and by Roy Lee, who produced U.S. versions of several Japanese hits, including The Ring 1 and 2, The Grudge 1 and 2, and The Lake House. These choices are hardly reassuring. Lee claims to be a fan of Fukasaku's original, which is fine. But The New York Times quotes him as also saying, "I would never want to make a movie that I thought was bad." It's meaningless drivel like this that bugs the hell out of me and makes me very leary. I mean, who wants to make a bad film, let alone cop to it? He also claims that he, and everyone else involved, wants "to try" to put across the movie's "pacifist angle."

I saw the original on an imported VCD a few years ago, and it's "message" did not primarily strike me as being pacifist or anti-violence. What struck me was that the film was not a simple minded blood and guts exploitationer. While there's plenty o' hackin' and bashin', slicin' and dicin' to go around, the film was truly great because it was also a brilliant criticism of the extremely highly competitive nature of the entire Japanese educational system. Since there really isn't any comparable competitiveness in the U.S. (except maybe New York City pre-school programs for the well-to-do) I have a really hard time seein' how it's gonna work, let alone play in the U.S.A.

As the Times quoted Grady Hendrix, a founder of Subway Cinema (see ACF 002), those of us who love the original "are disappointed that a remake is going to hit screens and not the original." If that remains the case and you haven't seen the original, then get to your Chinatown video store or a good website and pick it up either on VCD or DVD. Do it fast, though, 'cause once those U.S. rights are purchased, it may be very hard to come by Fukasaku's fabulous swan song. Oh, and you might also consider writing to New Line Cinema, it's sister studio Warner Brothers, and their corporate parent Time Warner, and strongly urge them to back a theatrical release of the 2000 version.

Sources and sites: New York Times, 07.09.06; comingsoon.net; variety.com: battleroyalefilm.net; Fight4Survival at eosophobia.net/f4s/

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