I immediately identified with the 9th graders in the novel, Battle Royale. I was fifteen when World War II came to an end. By then, my class had been drafted and was working in a munitions factory. In July 1945, we were caught up in artillery fire. Up until then, the attacks had been air raids and you had a chance of escaping from those. But with artillery, there was no way out. It was impossible to run or hide from the shells that rained down. We survived by diving for cover under our friends.
After the attacks, my class had to dispose of the corpses. It was the first time in my life Id seen so many dead bodies. As I lifted severed arms and legs, I had a fundamental awakening everything wed been taught in school about how Japan was fighting the war to win world peace, was a pack of lies. Adults could not be trusted.
The emotions I experienced thenan irrational hatred for the unseen forces that drove us into those circumstances, a poisonous hostility towards adults, and a gentle sentimentality for my friendswere a starting point for everything since. This is why, when I hear reports about recent outbreaks of teenage violence and crimes, I cannot easily judge or dismiss them.
This is the point of departure for all my films. Lots of people die in my films. They die terrible deaths. But I make them this way because I dont believe anyone would ever love or trust the films I make, any other way.
BATTLE ROYALE, my 60th film, returns irrevocably to my own adolescence. I had a great deal of fun working with the 42 teenagers making this film, even though it recalled my own teenage battleground.
The director: FUKASAKU Kinji
Fukasaku Kinji is the director of Toeis legendary yakuza series, BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY. Fukasaku worked as an assistant director at Toei from 1953 unti 1961, when he burst into the limelight with the daring film noir, GREED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT (1961). Fukasaku has worked prolifically since, often making 3 films in a year. Shot hand-held in cinemascope, BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY (1973), broke box-office records, turned the yakuza genre upside down and placed the director in the pantheon of Japanese masters. Acknowledged by Quentin Tarantino and John Woo as a key influence, Fukasakus films were celebrated earlier this year in a retrospective at the Rotterdam Film Festival. BATTLE ROYALE is his 60th film.
The cast: BEAT Takeshi
Kitano was born in Tokyo in 1947 and entered show business in 1972 using the name "Beat" Takeshi, the stage name that he continues to use today as a performer. One of the foremost media personalities in his native Japan, Kitano has written a number of novels, short stories, and poetry and essay collections. An accomplished painter, Kitano at times uses his artwork in his own films to startling and symbolic effect. He sponsors an amateur baseball team for which he sometimes plays, has released several records, and manages a group of comedians and actors.
Kitano made his directorial debut in 1989 with VIOLENT COP. Since then he has written, directed, edited or starred in nine films - almost a film per year, never losing the momentum of his extraordinary originality and heightened artistic sensibility. BOILING POINT (1990) and SONATINE (1993), along with VIOLENT COP have all centred around yakuza gangster characters. The filmmaker chose to contrast the violence and action of those films with comedy or tenderness in films like A SCENE AT THE SEA (1991), GETTING ANY? (1995), KIDS RETURN (1996) and KIKUJIRO (1999).
The success of his seventh film, HANA-BI, confirmed Kitano as a leading figure of international cinema. Among its numerous awards, HANA-BI won the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Film Festival and was named Best Non-European Film at the 1997 European Film Academy Awards. HANA-BI was cited on numerous "Best Films of the Year" lists, often in the premiere position. Most recently, Kitano directed BROTHER, his first film outside his native Japan.
As an actor, Kitano has also appeared in films which he has not directed himself. He won international attention for his role in Nagisa Oshimas MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE (1983). He recently starred in Oshima's GOHATTO (TABOO), presented in Cannes. His credits in films directed by other filmmakers include Robert Longos JOHNNY MNEMONIC (1995), starring Keanu Reeves, and Toshihiro Tenmas MANY HAPPY RETURNS (1993).
Interview with FUKASAKU Kinji by Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp
First published on www.midnighteye.com
Q: Is Battle Royale a warning or advice to the youth?
FK: (long silence) You know, both those words sound very strong to me, like things you would actively set out to do. But I didn't make the film which such strong thoughts in my mind. This film is a fable. The themes which are included in the film are very much real modern issues, youth crime is a very serious issue in Japan. It's not that I'm not concerned or not interested, but those are just the basis of the fable.
Q: I asked specifically about it being a warning or an advice, because the film ends with a very strong message: "Run". It came across as being very positive.
FK: That was that was developed throughout the film. I guess it could be seen as a message. I took your question as having a much stronger meaning than just a simple message. That's why I answered that it wasn't particularly a warning or advice. To me, these are greetings to young people. Those were my words to the next generation, so whether you take that as a message or as a warning or advice is up to you, the viewer.
Q: In the film you're taking these children, contemporary children, and putting them through wartime experiences. Maybe they are similar to the kind of experiences you yourself lived through in World War II or right after. Is there a reason behind this? Do you feel living through those experiences builds a person's character?
FK: The existence of contemporary youth presents different issues, to themselves as well as to others. Looking back to when I was fifteen I went through a certain period and experience. For this film I posed myself the question "How would that be for these young people?" I am fully aware that there is a generation gap between where I stand and where those kids stand. How we fill this gap was one of the issues we had to deal with during the actual shooting of this film.
So I wondered what the significance of making this kind of film in today's Japan would be. What sort of result or conclusion would that bring? To be honest to you, I had to wait for until the film was actually made to find that out. When I mentioned it wasn't as strong as a warning or advice, it was just my way of talking to them, saying some words to the children.
Q: Was it a problem for you that many children couldn't see the film as a result of the R15 rating it received from the ratings board?
FK: Because of my own experiences as a fifteen-year-old, and because
the original novel sets the story around fifteen year olds and the actors
we cast were around the age of fifteen, the R15 decision by Eirin naturally
was something I couldn't accept. I did lodge a complaint and asked for
Q: A strong theme in the film is the generation gap. Especially that older generations feel that the younger generation no longer respect their elders. But in the film, many of the children's main motivation is a father or an uncle, an elder figure.
FK: The fact that adults lost confidence in themselves, that's what
is shown in the film. Those adults worked very hard in the seventies
in order to rebuild Japan. They went through that period working for
the national interest. Of course there was a generation gap between
the young and adults, even throughout that period, but adults were in
control in terms of political stability and the development of the nation.
Q: It also seems to me that the children in the film are trying to behave properly towards their elders. For instance the stranger in the class constantly credits his father for something he is good at, another says he is able to make Molotov cocktails because he was taught by his uncle and so on.
FK: For these boys, the older people are not always on hand to give advice. There is a gap between them, they are somewhere from which they will never return. Take the father who hung himself. He gave his son the message "go for it" and "you will make it", but he is no longer there. In the classroom, the teacher is not even liked by his own daughter and this leads to the loss of affection for children who are the same generation as his daughter.
All these things are dramas unfolding in front of the children. But these adults behave according to their own whim or motivation. They have their purpose, logic, arguments and emotion. The impact of this behaviour on the children was interesting.