Friday, September 23, 2005

Camera Obscura/Battle Royale


Gird your loins, dear reader. The Camera is On. Ready?

One thing I like about the website Crooks and Liars is they serve up television in short bites, showcasing (sur)real moments. And if I'm not watching a movie or a fictional show, or jes' cruisin' the surf made by the wake of talking heads who want to sell me a spin point, a doormat, a diet, a scheme, or a disaster, then I'm here doing the Web-Walk. and the television is off.

Crooks and Liars gets me the highlights reel. If I'm in front of the television for long, it puts me to sleep. Save yourself some time and check them out.

That said, here's the movie pick of the week. It's an import, which was a box office bonanza until government officials made distributors yank it out of the theatres. It falls in the genre of the Teens Gone Wild with a disturbing and shocking satire, merging with movies like "Lord of the Flies," "Blackboard Jungle," and "A Clockwork Orange." The genre is really large and includes some old favorites of mine like "Wild In The Streets," (1968) where the voting age is lowered to 15 and adults are hustled into LSD camps for some re-grooving, baby. I also must mention another fave, Lindsay Anderson's "If..." also from 1968, the movie that brought Malcolm McDowell to the screen and revolution to the room.

The pick is the "Battle Royale" (Japanese, 2000), based on the novel and the manga of the same name. Tip of the hat to my brother David for pointing this one out to me -- thanks DP. The novel is as stark and terrifying a story as I've ever read. The movie captures some of the crazy manga style and stays close to novel, written by Koushun Takami.

Its set in a Japan collapsing from an economic crisis and a social one as well. The school system is overrun with chaos and the adults have no authority. So the government creates a new law, in hopes of bringing discipline -- each year, a class of high schoolers is selected for battle of survival, taken to an isolated and evacuated island, given random weapons and explosive neck collars. The rules give the kids three days to fight to the death until only one is alive - if they don't fight they all die by collar detonation, even if there are only two or three left, the detonation threat remains to urge them to kill to the last boy or girl. Yeah, you thought the social order at your school was tough.

I'm not going to say much more about it -- suffice to note it is a brutal battle with graphic violence. Friends and cliques can bring hope or death. So no, it isn't for every taste, but for the Teens Gone Wild genre, it is an impressive entry for the 21st Century. The downside here is that even the Special Edition DVD available in the U.S. has some truly funky sub-title problems, but it isn't too distracting.

And it is loaded with Japanese stars, like Kitano Takeshi (Kitano), you have seen him before. This is the actor that plays as "Vic Ramono" on MXC on Spike TV. The rest of the cast is comprised of Japanese teen pop idols. Most notably, the gorgeous Chiaki Kuriyama (Chigusa), who was Gogo Yubari in "Kill Bill Vol 1."

The director is the late Kinji Fukasuka, a prolific director who died in 2003, and was the director of countless Yakuza gang thrillers and utterly hilarious science fiction movies like the 1968 "The Green Slime" and the 1978 bizzare "Star Wars" imitation, "Message From Space" with Sonny Chiba and Vic Morrow. "Battle Royale" has a strong Kubrick style in both composition and music.

Next week, I'm headed to a Tuesday night screening of writer/director Joss Whedon's "Serenity" based on his cancelled-too-quick TV series "Firefly". The screening is courtesy of Glenn Reynolds and Michael Silence and I groveled loudly on No Silence Here for tickets. The review will be here next Friday.

Here's your movie quote of the week:
"Show me an American that can keep his mouth shut and I'll eat him!"
Meet John Doe, 1941

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