Well, I haven’t done one of these in a while (technically this will be the second one, even though the review for Blindness was similarly written). The last time I did this, I reviewed the short story and film versions of Rashomon. This time, I’m taking yet another Japanese story and film: Battle Royale. The book, which came out in 1999, was at first highly controversial, though it quickly became a huge hit, making all the best-seller lists. The very next year, it began being translated into a series of graphic novels/mangas, and, within that same year, became a movie. From what I’ve read, all three are different from each other, but I have yet to experience the mangas, so I couldn’t tell you for those. However, just by experiencing the book and the film, I can agree that they do have some pretty big differences.
But let me first start off by discussing what the story is about (first the book). The story is an allegory for the transition of teenage school life into the cut-throat world of Japanese business. In an alternative future where America is a third-world country and Japan has become a massively strict dictatorship, the government has set up a program in which one class of fifteen-year-old students is chosen to participate in The Program, which sets them in a deserted area and forces them to kill each other off until there is only one left. Shiroiwa Junior High School Class B has just been selected to be the next class to participate. They are put on a small island that has been evacuated from all inhabitants. Each of them (all 42, with 21 males and 21 females) has a metal collar around his or her neck wherein it can be detonated if they start to do something against the rules and/or government, if they try to escape, or if they get caught in a Forbidden Zone—areas of the island that are announced with the newly dead every 6 hours that are forbidden to be in after that point in time. Along for the ‘game’ is Shuya Nanahara, a young boy who lost both his parents and just wants to get out alive with all of his friends; Noriko Nakagawa, a young girl who gets injured early on and struggles to stay alive and innocent with her secret crush; Shogo Kawada, a mysterious new transfer student with a scarred-up face and an interest in both Shuya and Noriko; Hiroki Sugimura, a sweet boy who just wants to find two different girls; and Shinji Mimura, a friend of Shuya’s that is incredibly popular and incredibly smart. And then there are the more sinister of the bunch, including troubled female Mitsuko Soma and insane psychopath Kazuo Kiriyama. The rules state there can only be one survivor, but Shogo insists he can help get him, Shuya, and Noriko off the island alive. The only issue is that they have to wait until they’re the only ones left… if they can survive that long.
The book was absolutely amazing. It’s now one of my favorite books. A lot of people, as I’ve read, have some issues with the English translation, but outside of a few typos or missing words here and there, I found no real huge issues. It’s not incredibly descriptive in the scenery or action/violence, but I think the point was more in that it was actually happening instead of every minute detail of the occurrences. Though it did get confusing in the action at times, especially toward the end when there’s a big car chase. I had a very difficult time trying to picture what the heck was going on. And unfortunately, all of that is cut from the movie, so I have no visual reference there, either.
The only other thing of note from the narrative would be the narration itself. It’s interesting in the way that the book switches from third person to first person interchangeably, allowing for the reader to see inside a specific character’s mind at that moment. So at one point you have a third person narrator, then out of nowhere it’ll start in with ‘I’ with first person. Though it never got confusing, at least for me, because each section really focused on one main person at a time. And that’s another great thing about the book; it had an incredible character focus. Each and every one of the 42 students had a background and a story to go with them. Most of them were interconnected either as friends or enemies or even secret crushes (and there were numerous).
And unfortunately, this is where the movie brings its first major issue. Obviously, it can’t focus on 42 different characters like the book can, but it didn’t even keep the same kind of feel for some of the characters. Shogo, who was my favorite character in the book, was much less mysterious and much less cool in the movie than he was in the book. Hiroki, who was another one of my favorites, had much less of an importance in the movie than the book, and he also lost his best character quality because of his lack of screen time—his unstoppable devotion. And the mystery of why he was hunting down the second of the two girls was played out much more in the book, though I do think the eventual scene that occurs was done quite well in the film. Shinji’s character was reduced to almost non-existent, Shuya became incredibly whiny, and any and all background or explanation for Kazuo was just left out. Mitsuko, however, was done rather decently, and a scene that’s in the director’s cut (the version I watched) that helps explain to those who haven’t read the book a bit about her past (though it is altered quite a bit) isn’t in the normal version, which would be disappointing to those who don’t watch the director’s cut. On the upside, although they changed the teacher/director character completely from the book to the film (it is not a former teacher or any of that in the book), I like how they added more humanity and even some pity to his character in the film. There was more depth to that character in the film than in the book.
But I think the biggest issue with all of these character changes came from trying to turn a 600+ page book into a two-hour movie. And while those two hours moved by incredibly fast (didn’t even feel like two hours), the whole movie felt like how the first fifteen-to-twenty minutes of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire went (200 pages of book crammed into that tiny period). It had a lot of tiny bits of information of characters and scenarios here and there, and those were always fun to catch as a reader of the book, but it still left out or altered too much. For instance, the huge explosion and the scene that leads up to it at the end of the movie occurs around the two-thirds mark of the book… not the climax. And the final showdown with Kazuo was incredibly lame in the movie in comparison to the book… not to mention because of its incredible alteration, one of my favorite (and one of the most powerful, I think) lines in the book wasn’t in the movie. I don’t want to list all the alterations and discrepancies between the two works, but I will list one more major one that was left out: the anti-government and rock-n-roll stuff. That all played such an enormous part of the book, and besides one scene where you see Shuya playing guitar in a flashback, there’s no mention of it whatsoever, and that also took away from the power of the ending, making it more cheesy because it didn’t rely back on a major theme.
Now, I didn’t hate the movie. I just felt that while the book had a more powerful feeling behind it, the movie was reduced to almost nothing more than a common action movie. But looking at the movie as a movie instead of an adaptation, it was pretty entertaining. It wasn’t super gory or anything, and the blood was more along the lines of Quentin Tarantino (you can tell it’s fake, and it’s in excess at certain moments to make a point). The action was pretty good, though the character development (even looking at it from a non-adaptation standpoint) could have used some work. As I said, at least in the director’s cut, the teacher and Mitsuko’s characters were handled pretty well. Noriko was similar to how she was in the book (she’s more of a symbol than anything), though the danger level of her survival is much more suspenseful in the book (the book plays up on her initial wound and possible infection from it much more than the movie, which takes roughly one minute to tackle that whole issue). Shogo could have been done a lot better. He’s not shown enough to where you can get a good sense of his character before the big end reveal. And Shuya… he seemed to be more of a prop in the movie than anything. The other major characters, such as Hiroki and Shinji, were dwindled down to mere plot devices. And I think with a lot of the stuff the writer of the film tried to put into the movie version might confuse some of the people who hadn’t read the book version, because there were some things that were brought up or shown but never explained.
One last thing to bring up is the music (and the cinematography). I figured, from the book, the music would be some old school rock songs, but as that whole theme was removed from the film, they used a lot of classical music or orchestral music. And I have to say, for the most part, I really enjoyed that choice. Though some of the time it was too much and took me out of the scene, but overall, I really liked how the music was done for this film. That just really struck me as something to mention, as I don’t bring up music often enough in film reviews. And to touch on the cinematography briefly… nothing special, though the scene toward the end with the fire after the explosion was pretty cool looking.
So I suppose a final verdict should be called for. For the book, I’d highly recommend it. It really is an amazing read. Therefore, to use my movie rating scores, I'd give the book the following (rating title - no pun intended):
Royale With Cheese
As an adaptation, I give it the following score:
Feed Me, Seymour!
As a film, ignoring the original source, I give it the following score:
I Am McLovin!