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At the dawn of the Millennium, the nation collapsed. At 15% unemployment, 10 million were out of work, 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence, and fearing the youth, eventually passed the 'Millennium Educational Reform Act'...AKA: The BR Act
Nearly five decades after George Orwell's Dystopian nightmare, one reaches the final convention of the Science-fiction genre. From the start; a powerful government, to the effects of the government's actions relying on religion to purify and yet still dictate, to the world of Battle Royale, a revengeful world of a collapsed society and the effects of the violence, which has occurred as a result. Battle Royale is the product of fear built up due to the youths that have been created in the previous Dystopian fictions. What is more, Battle Royale is not only 'reforming' society but the extreme act is ending it. The Battle Royale novel has often been compared to the 1954 novel Lord of the Flies even in the blurb it is said that "Battle Royale is Lord of the Flies for the 21st century" (Takami 1999: 620). Both novels share a theme of youth culture as a predatory basic human nature. Even though the two novels are similar the Japanese context stands Battle Royale alone.
Just like Nineteen Eighty- Four (Orwell) and The Handmaids Tale (Atwood) Battle Royale is overtly an anti-fascist statement. However, as the most recent of the three, the setting is more realistic despite the 'fake' state of the Republic of Greater East Asia. It could even be said that this setting is just a representation of Orwell's East Asia and a realistic view of the Orwellian world from World War II in which "Hiroshima and Nagasaki. . .left parts of Tokyo in ashes and 1.8 million people dead and 680,000 missing or wounded." (Balmain, 2006)Because of Oceania or England leaving behind devastation and violence now represented in the violent youth of Battle Royale. What is more, the opening of Battle Royale gives the reader the circumstance of a broken nation, one that had 'collapsed'. In relation to today's reality Japan is said to be "unique in that the constant process of devastation and renewal" (Balmain, 2006)evidently the act of Battle Royale signifies a culture fighting out against constant uneasiness an envision of how Japan will change in the coming years
Despite Battle Royale being set in Greater East Asia a 'none place' it still represents everyday life which suggests that modern science-fiction is able to relate more today's society and the existence of a Dystopian World is becoming less important to highlight negative issues. The totalitarianism in Battle Royale seems to be an allegory for the more rigid aspects of Japanese culture and its educational system, the genre is no longer focused on the government, and fascism has gone beyond this and has turned into a game, "Life is a game. So fight for survival and see if you're worth it" (Fakasaku 2000). However, it is still possible to interpret the novel as anti-capitalistic by criticising the expectations that modern families often have for their children as a result of conforming to a regimented society, often shown in a totalitarian regime.
To discover how Battle Royale can be compared to reality one must examine the Japanese culture and why it suggested that the country was at "national collapse" and what influenced the writer to focus on such a violence society created by an unruly youth population. However, it has been questioned whether or not it is the problem of the youth or circumstance that have driven them to change society. Furthermore, to fully understand how Battle Royale fits into the genre on would need to compare Science Fiction with culture asking how much truth is in a Dystopian society. Do the negative conventions of a culture only get highlighted because they are a shock to outsiders? Is violence only related to culture? And is a person only influence by their culture? What is more, is a Japanese culture easier to portray as being extreme because it isn't well known? Do we only see Battle Royale as science fiction because we fear and don't understand the unknown?
Susan Napier has suggested that:
Science fiction is a particularly appropriate vehicle for treating the complexities of the Japanese success story. The genre reflects the cultural instrumentalities that characterise modern capitalism . . . the ideology of progress toward some anticipated 'future', and the omnipresence of the machine.
Napier states how well the Japanese relate to the Science Fiction genre due to the growth and complexities of their society, the above statement reflects the impression of 'infallibility' which surrounds Japan's economic concentration on advancing technology. When dealing with the Dystopian convention of Science Fiction one can often get confused with the Horror genre. However, Battle Royale plays on Horror conventions to highlight the sheer extreme distress of their Dystopian environment. The narrative often represents the altercations between helpless characters and opponents endowed with incommensurably powerful abilities, the precise details of which, while unknown, and are repulsive and terrifying. Battle Royale represents the possible, a warning to the youth of Japan that this is how one must repent. Normally in the Science Fiction genre the write will inchoate fears of an urban citizen who daily encounter strangers, or the unknown, whose motives, desires, and potential capacity for harm remain immeasurable. KÅshun Takami breaks this convention by using a school class all of whom know each other and who Takami claims are "kind of all alike" (Fakasaku 2000), being "all the same" (Fakasaku 2000). Takami uses the known rather the unknown so that the youth are able to punish themselves, and what they have become.
When one looks at J.D Ballad's explanation of Science Fiction "everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century." (Ballard in Landon 2002: 183) Battle Royale should be the more realistic text the novel of which being published by KÅshun Takami before the turn of the millennium telling signs of what could be to come. The novel was quickly adapted into a film by Kinji Fukasaku in the millennium year 2000. The film quickly became controversial as the Youth of Japan rushed to see it; a debate raged about its certifications and whether or not the Public should be exposed to it at all. In response to the reaction of the film, Fukasaku suggested that he was heavily influenced by the society he saw around him and by his Post-war experiences he stated: "this reaction is exactly what i had in mind when we depict this sort of confrontation between adults and young people". ( Fakasaku 2000: Film Notes). This relates back to the "intact reality" as Fukasaku wanted to portray the truth, the pressure the Japanese youth are exposed to during their education and by their parents. Battle Royale is the result of this "reality" and maybe why it became so controversial. A self-obsessed adult world, and the mixture of extreme influences blend into the bloody contest that is presented to the reader.
The Dystopian world of Battle Royale is very similar to that of Nineteen-Eighty Four and The Handmaids Tale despite it being more modern, this proves that in a world of extreme dictatorship there is no room for an evolution of morals. The national socialist state, Republic of Greater East Asia is therefore a cross between a rampant capitalist culture and strict totalitarian society. The children are punished and given a lesson in how to behave by mass death-matches where the "lesson is, you kill each other off till there's only one left. Nothing's against the rules" (Fakasaku 2000). The act of Battle Royale is contrasted with the adult counterpart of unawares as the death matches are seen simply as entertainment discarding all reality for the adults watching. Undoubtedly all science Fiction requires some degree of removal from the everyday as Rosemary Jackson says "A fantastic text tells of an indomitable desire, a longing for that which does not yet exist or has not been allowed to exist" (Jackson in Armitt 1991: 9) this of course influences the difference between the present to the unknown and unfamiliar.
The extreme method discarding the reality of this brutal lesson is also represented in a cheerful Japanese pop video themed video demonstration. This is immediately followed with the previous games survivor being interviewed, just as a celebrity would be after winning an award or a sports match. The most disturbing attribute of this moment is how the entertainment meets reality what is reported is different to the reality of the moment. The reporter announces proudly "Look, she's smiling! Smiling! The girl definitely just smiled!"( Fakasaku 2000) this is clearly not the response you would expect from a young girl who has been involved in horrific trauma. However, m hen one looks at the visual image from Fukasaku's adaptation (figure two) the reality is chilling.
The fact that the young girl is holding a doll and has a child-like smile highlights the reality of her age and signifies some sort of normality of the innocence within what is expected from a young child. This is then contrasted with blood soaked clothes and the fact that this has been celebrated; her sadistic roofless behaviour is rewarded as a hero. Furthermore, the child as abject, as an adolescent they are between worlds, not adult not child and the mixture of sexualisation, and violence, with the very child-centred pic of the teddybear it sets up an unsettling aesthetic. Therefore, one can see how this Dystopian government like the ones discussed in Nineteen- Eighty Four and The Handmaids tale is created a new generation eager and willing to carry on their totalitarian government as something that is normal.
The violence is influenced and set by the adults, even the first killing is made by the authority figure, the teacher to set a standard and to justify how easily it I done. The scene is grotesque; that of a young girl pierced through the head with a pen-knife, just because like any other typical child, she was talking in class. Followed by unlikely humor "It's against the rules for me to kill isn't it?"( Fakasaku 2000) this inhumane like emotion sets the standard for the science-fiction conventions. However, its narrative meaningfulness is clear: it shocks the children, and clarifies for them the violent reality of their world. Mes and Sharp call this culture of social violence, the "system of violence handed down from generation to generation" (Mes and Sharp 2004: 63) For Nanahara, the central protagonist, his environment of violence is not just societal but domestic, having already been faced with his father's auto-asphyxiated corpse on his first day of high school and In a school corridor, Nobu, Nanahara's best friend stabs Kitano, his teacher almost arbitrarily, a simple ejaculation of violence for lack of anything else to express.
The use of Sakamochi, the government official in the novel and Kitano, the teacher in the film changes shows how the science fiction has evolved from the government figure to an everyday man, with an everyday occupation. The totalitarian government has become some that The Handmaids Tale warned against something that has become 'ordinary'. Lucie Armitt claims that change and adaptation in Science Fiction is normal in order to give a relative representation of a political change by keeping it close to familiar one can play on the unfamiliar. Armitt says "Authorial preoccupations can be seen to change in accordance with the contemporary socio-political climate, as the current pre-occupation with the Dystopian vision makes apparent" (Armitt 1991: 10) therefore, Science Fiction can defamiliarise what one commonly perceives to be normal in order to focus upon existing reality given a new point of view and image on a world one takes advantage of. By using a school teacher rather than the original government official Fukasaku is creating a dictator who is familiar to the children.
What is more, in an interview Fukasaku claims that Science Fiction only truly works if one concentrates on the individual self. the Mixture of extreme influences blend into the bloody Contest we're presented with Fukasaku claims that "you have to act yourself to live through this game" ( Fakasaku 2000) characters who unreservedly take their world to be real and legitimate and it is only through our own perspective as audience that we can detect satirical element. As a previous Science Fiction writer says "There can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator" ((Lang in Armit 1991: 109))
A major example is seen when we look back at the death of Kitano, a disturbing comical theme comes across. Kitano dies as a result of an extraordinary moment of satire as the teacher begs the remaining students to shoot him, or he would shoot them. Nanahara, the central protagonist, shoots him after fearing a threat made against the girl in whom he had protected all this time. As a reaction Kitano rises and fires his gun back at the student, only turning out to be a water pistol. After a few moments of relief and somber unbelief a phone rings. Kitano rises again once more to answer his cell phone. After hanging up angrily on his daughter, tossing the phone to the floor, shooting it with a real gun and then eating the last of Noriko's cookies; Kitano dies his last words are "The last one... Cookies sure were good." (Fakasaku 2000) This moment of survival and postponing death is the sort of reaction, due to being so past reality can happen in Science Fiction.
What is more, Doris Lessing writes of the politics of Violence in Science Fiction. Lessing claims that "If writers write truthfully, write really truthfully you fill find that you are expressing other people" (Lessing in Armitt 1991: 67) A human protagionist's difficult entry into a larger world "is one of Science Fictions most thoughtfully developed themes" (Jones 1991: 165) there is a sense that this genre maybe seen as the quintessential fiction of adolescence. To re-enter the subjective world of the adolescent is much more difficult given the world dark world of smoldering despair. What could be suggested is that, Battle Royale could be this exact representation, one of a metaphorical value of which must be experienced in a Japanese society and youths' education.
One of the most disturbing realities of Japanese culture is that of the treatment of suicide and violent behaviour within schools. The term 'sucide' has various meanings in Japan. One of which relates to the vigorous examination in which they most undertake known as 'exam hell', these examination are taken by student who are mainly 14-15 years old, the same as in Battle Royale due to this system a number of these young people notoriously find the stress and pressure of the situation so overwhelming that they not only opt out of the system but out of life itself or act out into violent situations.
Figure 3 shows how the growth of violence within youths could have affected both the novel and film version of Battle Royale. figure1newb2
As one can see the number of violent acts hits two points, a peak in 1998 when Takami started to create Battle Royale and again in 2000 when the film version was created. It cannot be factually supported that opening children's mind up further to ultra-violence will have further influenced this movement. However, it can be suggested that it was this violence in schools and the examinations that are represented in Battle Royale. Furthermore, Merry White observes that the 'abruptness' of the 'examination hell' which Japanese children suddenly encounter after graduating from the nurturing, non-competitive atmosphere of Japanese primary schools "may account for the relatively high rate of delinquency and other school-related socio-psychological problems that arise in the third year of middle school" (Nakanishi 2005) thus signifying the comfort of everyday life to a sudden life and death battle.
Similar, another term for suicide common in Japan is 'love suicides' supposedly representing self-destruction through being pushed to push by pressure. Masaki Kato studies the idea of these tragic methods of youth culture. Kato findings suggests that the deliberation of such an action is known as 'double suicide' relating to Japanese values Kato says that "religious belief in the future life, on the low value placed on individual life from the bushido way of thinking"( Kato in Nakanishi 2005) this idea of individual in some way puts pressure on a love for life for others rather than one's self. With social and familial pressure remaining a potent force in a country which, possibly, does not accord sufficient respect to the notion of individual liberty or right to personal privacy. In addition, the idea of the 'Bushido' is what is known as "Way of the Warrior"( Turnbull 2006) Bushido is a code that is said to teach virtues such as loyalty, honor, and self-sacrifice. The term goes back to tales of a Samurai warrior. Historian Stephen Turnbull says that "In the world of the warrior, seppuku was a deed of bravery that was admirable in a samurai who knew he was defeated, disgraced, or mortally wounded"( Turnbull 2006:76) stressing the idea of loyalty and in some way purification.
What Battle Royale is conventionally using with the idea of Bushido is the theory of quantum suicide and immortality; the idea that authors exploit is that a person who dies in one world may survive in another world or parallel universe. A 'lovers suicide' is one of the first deaths the reader sees after the students are let loose on the island, a girl and a boy, #21 Boy Yamamoto and #4 girl Ogawa stand over cliff looking down onto crashing rock and rough waters "I'll never play this game" (Fakasaku 2000) says the girl, soon the boy replies "can't anyone help us" (Fakasaku 2000) the last words we hear from the girl is "No one can lets go" (Fakasaku 2000) by committing suicide rather than playing a virtual impossible game of sin the couple reach a state of bushido due being forced into their situation both the characters are 'defeated' and 'mortally wounded". Taking away the value of their own personal lives they respect the lives of their classmates by doing them no harm. They have realised by being put into that situation in the first place the world is not a fair place to live so therefore state that no one can help them. It is later said that "There's a way out of this game. Kill yourselves together, here, now. If you can't do that, then don't trust anyone... just run" (Fakasaku 2000) by committing to a future life Yamamoto and Ogawa are disregarding a Dystopian present and committing to a Utopian future.
In the end, all three central protagonists from Nineteen-Eighty Four, The Handmaid's Tale and Battle Royale are punished for fighting against their Dystopian society. Winston is tortured for believing the brotherhood could exist. The last lines of the novel have Winston claim "I love Big Brother"(Orwell 1949:260) only to be cast back into society to become one of them. Offred in The Handmaid's Tale is forced into excise with Nick. Ultimately, in Battle Royale the two survivors (Shuya and Noriko) who have tried their best to survive without murdering anyone, are labelled as murderers by society when they return home despite having being forced to play the game. The two end the novel with the words "run" (Fakasaku 2000) perhaps to freedom from the institutional constraints of Japanese society.Â