Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Based on the best-selling novel, the manga follows the story of a Shiro Iwa Junior High School Class as they are selected to take part in ‘The Program’, which involves them being shipped to an island and forced to fight until only one survives. Most people will be familiar with the plot from the cult film that came out in 2000 (the same year the manga began publication). Due to the form the manga is able to follow the novel much more closely, includes more details, both on the world that the story takes place in, and spends more time with each of the characters. There are a huge cast of characters, with 42 students in the class, plus the instructor and various side characters who we see in flashback (such as friends and family) and the manga does a great job of making all of these children instantly identifiable, through their appearance or character quirks. The manga is far more grotesque and sexually explicit, including scenes of rape and graphic scenes of shootings, stabbings and all manner of other deaths. Some of this is due to the events being depicted visually (as opposed to the book), and being able to have the 15 years old protagonists shown engaging in sex and violent scenes (not possible with the young actors in the film). I found that my reaction to the manga was different from both book and film. In the book, there is the sense of a puzzle that needs to be solved (how will they escape from the island?); the film is more like an action script (being thrilled at every narrow escape, or shocked at every death); while the manga really brings home a sense of futility, and revulsion at the acts of the government. Things really do seem hopeless at times, and each death is made to hurt.

The story moves seamlessly from one character or group to another, and with flash-backs throughout to show their motivations, or further emphasize something about their character. The art style is very detailed, especially on the characters faces and scenes of blood spattering or gore. There are many scenes of characters bawling, or screaming, with snot and tears flowing freely. One of the things I liked about this version of the story was the ability to include dream sequences (not present in the other versions). One such stand out moment sees Shuuya envisioning his classmates as monsters, with sharp teeth and claws coming to get him. If you are a fan of the film and want to find out more about the characters, or like the book and want to see it represented visually, this is a great read.

Linda, Linda, Linda (2005)

linda

Three friends, Kyoko, Kei and Nozomi, decide, after problems with other members leaving, to keep their band together and perform at the closing concert of their high school cultural festival. Wanting a clean break from the songs they have performed before, they choose to cover The Blue Hearts, a popular punk band of the late eighties/ early nineties. The only problem is that they don’t have a lead singer. They recruit a Korean exchange student, Son, who they hope will be able to learn Japanese in time for their performance. The film focuses on the girls’ friendship with each other, as well as their relationships with friends and family.

The plot of this film will be familiar if you have seen any films set in a high school: a group of friends practice for a final competition, or performance. This film almost seems to know that this plot is a cliché, and it never attempts to draw any drama from suggesting that they might not succeed, or that there are any problems to overcome (other than learning the songs). Instead the film takes almost a back seat as we watch their journey. Aided by great direction, which brings this above many similar movies in the genre, it always seems as though we are looking in on their lives. The romantic, if they could be called that, subplots, go nowhere, with one girl turning down her admirer, and another unable to confess her affection for a classmate. There are several scenes involving the girls’ families, or friends, which have no significance to the plot, or don’t reach any sort of resolution. Instead, the film seems to be giving us a snapshot of their lives. This might be frustrating for some, but I found that it made for an interesting film, rather than being an overly dramatised portrayal of high school life. The four lead actresses do a fantastic job, playing their different roles well, and are all likeable. Most of the humour derives from Bae Doona’s Son, who struggles with Japanese and Japanese culture, leading to many scenes of confusion (such as when she attempts to book out a Karaoke booth to practice singing, only to be told that you need to order a drink to be allowed to sing).

The film does a good job of showing a realistic group of friends, with a lot of humour and great direction. The peculiar strength of the film is in its subtlety. While many films of this type would be trying hard to make you sympathise with the characters, using either an unexpected tragedy, or some serious issue, this film seems entirely unaware of your presence, offering only a candid look at the protagonists’ lives. Rather than making you feel distant, this instead makes you want to learn more about these characters, and cheer for them. The film leaves many things unsaid, again unusual in this genre, which usually ties up every subplot neatly. I would recommend this film to anyone who is a fan of this type of high-school film, as it does attempt to do things in a different way, has a lot of humour, and a great soundtrack ending with two fantastic renditions of Blue Hearts classics.