For international audiences, director Kinji Fukasaku’s violent, ballsy Battle Royale is a cult classic. But for moviegoers in Japan, this controversial adaptation of Koushun Takami’s equally controversial novel was a blockbuster.
Released in 2000, Battle Royale, a film about teens sent to an island by the Japanese government to fight to the death in a three-day competition, became one of the country’s top grossing film upon release... both despite and because of criticism from many public officials.
Why the controversy? Unlike most film’s (think slasher movies) were teens end up dead, Fukasaku cast 15-year-olds in the role of 15-year-olds. Flirty school girls and cool guys, freaks and geeks. The students in the John Hughes-style cliques were played by actors who were the right age for the part... and still the bodies hit the floor.
Fukasaku famously adapted Battle Royale with his own personal experience as a 15-year-old working in an WWII artillery factory in mind. (A raid on the building even forced him and his fellow teens to move corpses.) That embedded sentiment, the palpable generational anxiety and the skilled handling of so many characters is what the film’s fans always heralded in spite of violence that could have been blatant exploitation, but wasn’t.
The film’s vocal detractors, however, made international distribution for the film a nightmare. Outside of rare film festival screenings, limited run DVDs and bootleg imports, US audiences rarely had the chance to see Battle Royale. That was until December 2011 when the film had its first official theatrical run at Cinema Family in Los Angeles where it was held over due to popular demand.