[121 minutes. Unrated. Director: Kinji Fukasaku]

You gotta hand it to Asian schoolkids: they could be the most resilient, adaptable human beings walking the Earth today.

Seriously: Sin City notwithstanding, how often do you see bodies riddled with a dozen bullets at close range, that somehow bounce back to fight some more (even delivering profound parting words before shuffling off this mortal coil)?

When SkyNet was considering its design for Terminators, the tech department probably had Battle Royale streaming on an endless loop.

While all of Internet Geekdom has caught fire lately with nit-picking, ultimately meaningless “chicken-or-the-egg” arguments comparing the adaptation of a certain popular young-adult novel to this rip-roaring, fire-on-all-cylinders Japanese import, the Bottom Line is this:

Battle Royale is an astonishing piece of cinema. And The Hunger Games, for all its derivative elements, remains a compelling read.

And this is coming from someone who finds most offerings of Asian cinema slow, dry, and preoccupied with style over substance. Sure, the films may be postcard-pretty to look at, or plumb depths of imaginative horror that Americans are tone-deaf toward…but 9 times out of 10, the feeling I’m left with is one of alienation, something that may well be the result of my own cultural background.

In any case: Battle Royale is still an astonishing piece of cinema, and easily refutes some of the above paragraph.

If you can discern the tongue-in-cheek satire piercing the violent hard edges of Paul Verhoeven’s films (think Robocop and Starship Troopers), you will be right at home here.

The setup is ingenious, done in rapid-fire voice-over during the opening credits, cutting right to the chase: it’s The Future. Unemployment is at an all-time high. Youth are rebelling against the educational establishment. The Government decides to subsidize a macabre televised contest where a class of 42 high-school students is set loose on a deserted island.

The objective? Kill or be killed. With room for only a single winner, Battle Royale is a free-for-all hybrid of “The Most Dangerous Game,” Lord of the Flies, and an elaborate Monty Python sketch (I tend to say that about any movie that takes the bloodletting to comical extremes; I really have to find a new comparison).

And what the hell: let’s throw in some John Hughes-style teen angst and romance!

I had always been aware of the film’s cult reputation, but was never curious enough to actually view it until recently. The experience was therefore untainted by spoilers or anything beyond a basic plot outline.

And by the time I got to the end credits, I was so glad.

Battle Royale is a grueling, visceral experience that caught me in its spell from start to finish. The less said about the actual plot and character turns, the better, but for a film that daringly juggles disparate tones, emotions, and stylistic flourishes, I couldn’t help but wonder how this all didn’t go disastrously wrong.

I laughed. I thrilled. My emotions stirred. I was left in aural rapture by well-known classical pieces used in painfully ironic and dramatic ways. And I was ultimately shaken to my foundations. Battle Royale is an absurd, spot-on metaphor for the battleground that is High School.

And so much more.

Just see it.

Jonny Numb’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10
(This is a slightly revised version of a review that was originally uploaded to my blog, Numbviews (numbviews.livejournal.com) on April 4, 2012.)

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