Book Rec: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Two quick announcements to begin. 1) To help further clarify the distinguishing line of this site, good writing, I've launched a new blog project: This Horror Life. The stated goal is to foster and improve intelligent discourse surrounding horror. The other purpose is to distinguish my typical writing style for this kind of analysis from what is actually read at the IMDB boards. God bless the Horror board, I enjoy being there, but longer posts with big words just don't cut it 96+% of the time there. So far, I've tackled the site's mission, why I dislike the phrase "literary horror", a call to arms to acknowledge the role of music in horror films, and the perfection and struggle of the horror short story. Please to enjoy.

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Book Rec: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami For those unfamiliar with the premise, here's a quick introduction. In an alternate reality, Japan's schools are overrun with rampant delinquency. As a result, randomly selected Junior High classes are forced to fight to the death on a remote island to teach the survivor the true value of life. It's a new form of preemptive discipline - punish anyone to show the others what could happen - that clearly isn't working since many of the 42 students the novel focuses on do not know the program, though the fans watching TV at home sure do. Let's get the criticism out of the way. Yes, it is violent. It's the premise of the book. Is it acceptable to write about children murdering each other? Not if you can't justify it in the text like Takami has. There's no cannon fodder set up just for an elaborate shock scene. No. You learn about these children. You connect to each and every student regardless of their role in the plot. Is it exploitative? Again, in a lesser hand, it might be. Since we empathize so much with the characters, and the violence and disturbing content is handled with grace and a keen eye for editing, I'll again say no. Here's the trouble, though. The film Battle Royale takes a very different approach, filled with dark humor and a line'em up and shoot'em down style that creates a vastly different product. For people who saw the film, the novel may not seem desirable. The screenplay seems to be adapted more from the plot points than the style, though the major characters are left mostly unchanged from the book. My question comes from the film: is there something major lost in the translation here? Was certain rhetoric muffled to insure a US release? I can't be certain. The result is breathtaking, for sure. An incredible almost-dystopian novel surely at the same level as The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Beautifully written and unyieldingly tragic, Battle Royale reflects war, human nature, and social behavior in unimaginable ways that sadly ring through. Sadly because it had to come from a novel about 42 children forced to kill or be killed. Give it a try. You might like it. Or you may claim it's pure exploitation and far too violent to see any merit in. At least you'll have a reaction.

Labels: book rec