Sunday, June 25, 2006

Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami

(pb; 1999)

From the back cover:

“Koushun Takami’s notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan – where it preceded to become a runaway bestseller – Battle Royale is a Lord Of The Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world…”


The comparison to Lord Of The Flies is warranted, though Takami updates the tale enough that it reads like a different creation.

Many of the characters are distinctive and relatable, even as they attack each other (often unwillingly). The writing, for the most part, is appropriately hyperkinetic and confident.

Unfortunately, Takami doesn’t seem to trust his readers to remember who’s who (among the battling students), or their relationships to each other – he shows this distrust by interrupting otherwise terse (and wow-worthy) combat scenes with expositions about the characters’ past: in doing this, he undercuts any tension these battle scenes might’ve had.

(Having written the above paragraph, I’m aware that this might be a translation issue as well, considering that Battle Royale was originally written in Japanese.)

Good reading, with the aforementioned reservation.

This became an excellent, popular film in Japan in 1999; a lackluster film sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem, was released in 2003.

Last week, Variety magazine reported that New Line Cinema bought the rights to do an American remake, though no production date has been set, nor any names attached to the (possible) project.

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