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Battle Royale: The Kids are in Control

August 7, 2009

When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would hurt the children in any way they could. By pouring their derision upon everything we did, exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kids – Pink Floyd

Since the inception of the first school in New England, a bible study opened in response to the irrational fears of adults who believed that “idle hands do the devil’s work,” well intentioned educators have suppressed in children their innate desires to break free from the restraints of authority. If a teacher wants to effectively practice their craft, they must have “control” over their students.  And any kid that has spent time in any classroom understands that it only takes one rebel to unhinge the order so meticulously arranged in seven rows of five.

And so we have the thoughtful premise of Japanese horror film Battle Royale.  Set in a future unknown, the economy has collapsed and unemployment has soared.  Families are falling apart as fathers commit suicide and children run aimlessly about.  800,000 kids boycott school, leaving the teachers feeling helpless and exposed.  With all form of discipline failing, suppressing the demons in one student in order to suppress the will of 30 is no longer effective, bringing every teacher’s worst nightmare to life.  The secret is revealed; the kids really do control the classroom.

But in this world, where respecting one’s elders supersedes all other forms of respect, the children cannot be allowed this power. And hidden beneath the surface, bubbling just below the rim, is anger, hatred, and fire burning within the teacher who only wanted “to help.” And so help he will. Packed into a school bus, Mr. Kitano’s class believes they are on a field trip. But when they wake up from their gas induced sleep, they find themselves captives on a deserted island.

The rules of BR are simple. Each ninth grader gets a bag of supplies, one weapon, and a neck collar designed to explode should a child stay in one place for too long. During the video explanation of the rules, one of Kitano’s students attempts to question the madness. Without warning, Kitano flings a knife across the room. It enters her forehead, instantly killing her. The room is silent. Kitano walks calmly toward the girl and removes the bloody knife from her skull.

So it is that in this film, the teacher will have his revenge, will suppress the will of the rebel by pitting savage spirit against innocent heart, jealous lover against helplessly devoted, pining child against intimidating beauty, and explosive anger against debilitating doubt. The irony of it all, however, is that this is the goal of most teachers on most days already. The methods never change.

Nobu and Nanahara are best friends, and both are secretly in love with Noriko. But when Nobu misbehaves during the delivery of the rules of battle, Kitano activates the collar. The red light flashes. Nobu desperately turns to Noriko and Nanahara for help, but fearing for their own lives, they retreat. With a circle of classmates growing wider around him, the collar explodes, opening his neck and sending blood spurting from the wound. On screen, the death toll is tallied, 2 dead, 40 to go.

There are 12 equally violent and bloody murders within the first 30 minutes. Battle Royale is relentless, with kids murdering eachother out of fear, hatred, revenge, and desperation. In the midst of the mayhem, there are tragic moments as well. When a boy is gunned down by the girl he is trying desperately to protect, his dying words sting, “Because you’re so cute.” She is devastated, “What am I supposed to do now?”

Every six hours, music fills the island, and Mr. Kitano playfully reads the announcements. “It’s six o’clock; here’s the list of goners.” As more and more kids are violently dispatched, the story eventually focuses on two distinct groups. So the fun of Battle Royale is in rooting for the survival of those remaining. It is a fascinating experience, really. As the kids commit increasingly violent attacks upon each other, it is within the adults that the hatred lives. Even in the midst of a child’s most vile moment, it is the failure of the adult exposed.

Many critics of education argue that rebuilding our nation’s schools would require the complete destruction of our current system, buildings included. Battle Royale argues for a different solution, a better solution. Each teacher has a responsibility to the child seated before him. That responsibility is sacred, that responsibility is demanding. A teacher must respect his students and resist the fear of revolution. Kids do not yet understand the power they have; the teacher who teaches this empowers them and gains their respect forever.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brock permalink
    August 7, 2009 7:57 am

    hmmm, sounds familiar… was this a film or homestead high?

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