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   Now in our eleventh calendar year
    PCR #548  (Vol. 11, No. 39)  This edition is for the week of September 20--26, 2010.

"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole"  by Mike Smith
The Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region, Part 12  by William Moriaty
Dark Night of the Scarecrow  by ED Tucker
September Album reviews: Weezer,Interpol, The Walkmen, and Boston Spaceships!  by Terence Nuzum
Pop Culture Potpourri: Anniversaries R Us ... R.I.P. Luna Vachon  by Lisa Scherer
Battle Royale  by Jason Fetters
You Say It's My Birthday .... Hate To Say I Told You So (no I Don't) .... The Big 5-o .... Where Was Matt? .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith

Battle Royale

Junior high school is a time of great change for young adolescents who are generally confused about many things including entering high school, getting along with like-minded friends, and fighting against rival cliques. Director Kinji Fukasaku takes all that pent-up frustration and allows it to be released in Battle Royale.

The movie opens with famed actor, Beat Takeshi telling his class that they have all been selected for this year's BR (Battle Royale.) The students all have collars around their necks that will explode with the touch of a button on a handheld remote. Each student is given a bookbag with a weapon inside and some basic food items such as battle water and instant noodles. Next, they are forced to hunt and kill each other off on a deserted island. The game ends when only one person is left alive.

Many other books and movies have explored similar themes such as the classic "Lord of the Flies" and the entertaining "The Long Walk" by Stephen King. However, none have added a Japanese flavor.

Battle Royale is an intense action movie that shows what happens when rival girls, who had previously competed for the same boy, are allowed to shoot or stab each other. One loner male just wants to win and goes on a Rambo-style shooting binge with an uzi. There is a small part with Chiaki Kuriyama, who played Go Go in Kill Bill, Volume 1. In Battle Royale, Kuriyama deals with an unsuccessful rape attempt by a geeky guy who is severely sexually repressed.

Despite all the murder and onscreen violence, Battle Royale is really about how school kids deal with social pressures and how these kids band together to survive. The best moments are those when characters help each other out. The ones that form groups and deal with problems using logic, are the groups that last the longest. Those that are hell-bent on revenge, or loners, generally wind up getting killed. It is easy to see why. One girl may shoot another for liking the same boy, then the girl who gets killed has friends who quickly figure out their friend is dead and gang up on the rival.

Along with all the moments of horror and suspense that accompany stalking and killing someone, there are funny moments such as when the nerds all band together and try to figure out a way to get rid of their collars. They hide away in a building and use the internet to help them come up with various methods to remove the collars. One even has a family member, who used to protest back in college and has taught his nephew how to disarm explosives.

A strong bond develops between Shuya, a nice guy thrust into an aggressive world and who just wants to protect his girlfriend Noriko and Kawada. Kawada has a great advantage over the others because he has competed and won a past Battle Royale. Together, they work as a group and put their individual skills to use for a greater good.

It is also easy to see why Battle Royale was such a big hit in Japan and with Western filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino. In Japan, getting into the right high school is actually more important than getting into the right college. The Entrance Exam to gain addmission into a good high school is one of the toughest tests anywhere in the world. Failure on this exam means going to a lesser high school and therefore a mediocre college and winding up with some dead-end job. Junior high school students must work hard by studying each day of the week, attending half a day on Saturdays, and going to cram school just to get by. Such students stay up late just to study for one exam that will make or break them. On the bright side, once high school is finished, college is a time to party because the worst is over. Therefore, the competition is so severe that some students begin drinking and smoking while in junior high. Japan has vending machines that sell alcohol and cigarettes, making it easy for anyone to buy.

Director Fukasaku takes all the demands of the dreaded Entrance Exam and combines that with the normal anxieties and pressures of youth with a much-needed violent release that makes an entertaining movie.

Battle Royale has something to offer genre fans of horror, action, and suspense, because it crosses so many genres that a movie-lover is bound to find something appealing. The pacing is quick. The characters are set up quick. Then the action begins and doesn't let up until the ending. The best way to sum up Battle Royale is when Beat Takeshi tells his students, just before the game begins, to do your best and have fun. He adds that this is your only chance to get away with murder.

Highly Recommended: 5 stars out of 5.

To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. "The Asian Aperture" is ©2010 by Jason Fetters. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.