Battle Royale, a high-octane thriller about senseless youth violence, is one of Japan's best-selling - and most controversial - novels. As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one "winner" remains. The elimination contest becomes the ultimate in must-see reality television. A Japanese pulp classic available in English for the first time, Battle Royale is a potent allegory of what it means to be young and survive in today's dog-eat-dog world. The first novel by small-town journalist Koushun Takami, it went on to become an even more notorious film by 70-year-old gangster director Kinji Fukusaku.
The book's setting is rife with dystopia, given the uneven political landscape and fear of Japanese youth. I have to say that, despite the somewhat stilted and unbelievable dialog, I thoroughly enjoyed this book enough to get me interested in other modern Japanese authors. In my queue I have Koji Suzuki's The Ring, a book given to me for Christmas by Zoraida. I've also been getting into Osamu Tezuka manga, having recently read (and fallen in love with) Dororo and MW, the latter of which was also a Christmas gift from a good friend who does not have a blog. More on that later, however.
The issue at hand here is another movie versus book diatribe - I had not seen the Battle Royale film prior to reading the book, and I have to say that after watching it after my complete read-through, I am disappointed. Although this is absolutely an issue of length and content - a 600+ page novel is sure to have a more detailed story than an under-two-hour film - I couldn't help but be bothered by the film's pacing. I felt the novel to be less about the brutality of the killings and more of the sadness caused by them, and one of the major missing elements from the novel in the film was the development of the relationships between all of the classmates. Very little background is given on any character, to the point where development was so spare that I left completely unsatisfied.
Beat Takeshi is good, but his character in the film seemed a lot more personable than the ruthless game master in the book (they even have different names and backgrounds). The end events were also slightly different, and I was let down by how the entire final scene played out. That said, the film was at least watchable and I can understand why it's a cult classic. The film successfully tells its story even though it alienates so many elements and themes from the novel. Taken seperately, I don't think I'd like the film at all if I weren't able to fill in background information that isn't even there. I'd probably watch it once and shelf it.
Right now I'm reading through 1984 because I hadn't really before, a book also given to me for Christmas by a friend of mine who remains blogless. But in between readings I've been on a Tezuka kick. Right now I'm reading through Astro Boy, which I scored a complete manga set of off of eBay a week ago. One of the truly interesting things about Astro Boy, to me, is that as it is Japan's first animated series, the character himself is a long-standing children's icon in American culture as well. The original television show (which I purchased on DVD last year - over 100 episodes that I am still working my way through) is the first anime.
While all of your classic children's show elements are there: morals, friendship, the monster-of-the-week specials, Astro Boy is a strikingly bleak and depressing look into a future populated by corrupt humans and oppressed robots. And as Asimov would have us believe, robots who go haywire go haywire. They go haywire here too. But then there are the sentient robots who exist for good, only to be reprimanded and despised by humans (Detective Gumshoe, a snarky reoccuring character, has a serious vendetta against all robots) just because of one or two bad ones. This is Astro Boy's most famous dilemma: constant alienation and rejection. The unwavering wish to be a real boy.
In the end, though, Astro Boy learns that it's OK to be different as long as you can save the world a thousand times over. But still, so many episodes deal with death and isolation, that you have to feel at least a little sad.
The differences between the stories in the manga and those in the TV show are aplenty. This is obviously because us soft gaijins can't stand to see violence. Tezuka was the man, though, because in one of his (comic-strip) introductions, he complains about the hypocrisy of American executives who asked him to tone down the violence in the cartoon despite unjustly killing thousands over in Nam. For example, there's an episode in the manga which a national holiday exists where robots are created to look exactly like deceased loved ones. In the same episode of the TV show, those robots are created to duplicate those who are currently in space. I have a feeling the original Japanese episode kept the original story and the English one had it changed, because once you understand certain elements of the driving-character the entire episode revolved around, you kind of realize that it's unbelievable that his family would consider him in space and not dead.
So, it's little things like that that bother me, but it's all good.
In other news, I'm going to see Blonde Redhead again at Terminal 5 tomorrow night. Should be a good show. I've seen them before a year ago and it was a nice way to cap off the year. I end this post with a YouTube video I particularly enjoy, with no reference at all to a part 2 of my end-of-the-year list.