Battle Royale — the TV Series?

Adapting the 2000 Japanese cult movie Battle Royale into a one-hour weekly drama series for broadcast on American television channel The CW sounds like a great idea! For about 8 seconds. Then, one realizes that the series would have to be so bowdlerized that it would barely resemble its progenitor, so why bother?

Kinji Fukasaku’s superbly brutal, highly polarizing movie (based on Koushun Takami’s 1999 novel) about Japanese school children pitted against one another in a fight to the death would be perfect for HBO or Showtime — premium cable networks that have the creative latitude to depict the ultraviolence necessary — not needed, necessary — to maintain the original Battle Royale’s satire and social commentary.

In BR, classrooms of teens in a future Japan are selected (by mysterious methods) to wage battle under terms of the BR Act, a punishment for 800,000 students staging a school walkout. The 42 teens must fight for three days — or until there is only one survivor. The students are kept from rebelling by explosive collars around their necks. The only star mainstream American audiences might recognize was Chiaki Kuriyama, who appeared in Kill Bill Vol. 1 as Gogo Yubari, the schoolgirl bodyguard armed with the meteor hammer.

The movie caused an uproar when it was released not only for its premise of forcing children to kill children, but for the graphic onscreen depictions of those deaths — blood sprays across rooms and drenches characters in a way that doubtless leaves Quentin Tarantino giddy. (Word is, BR is QT’s all-time favorite film — so his casting Kuriyama is no surprise.) Members of the Japanese parliament labeled the movie “crude and tasteless” when it was released. The violence is so extreme that it was rumored that the movie was banned from the USA, but that was not the case. A test screening that just happened to take place right after the Columbine High School massacre went badly (the reaction was, predictably, very negative.) Worried about being associated with such a live-wire movie at a politically sensitive time, one of the Japanese firms that controlled the film’s rights, the legendary Toei, attached onerous rules to any remake deal, effectively killing an American version.

Battle Royale came long (long) before The Hunger Games, and while author Suzanne Collins assures everyone she’d never seen or heard about the movie or book until after her novel was submitted, the similarities are quite striking. It’s just that BR is far more brutal and keeps the deaths onscreen, whereas HG prefers off-camera action. In fact, HG feels like a sanitized version of BR, and HG was made into a PG-13 movie, so perhaps de-fanging HG for broadcast TV is a better way to go. (But that would never happen until the big-screen adaptations have all come and gone.)

I love BRand would not want to see it compromised for a TV series that would last no more than a handful of episodes before being canceled. Better to do a formal big-screen remake in English that maintains the ultraviolence and purity of the original.

The L.A. Times reports The CW has been tinkering with the idea of a similar series of its own, dubbed THE SELECTION, so it’s unknown if the network is meeting with BR‘s Japanese rights-holders in order to replace that project with something based on the movie. The CW apparently wants to snag the rights to the underlying original novel and build a series around that.

It will be interesting to see how this develops. If nothing else, perhaps it could lead to a wide release of the original (which recently became available on Blu-ray for the first time, along with its inferior sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem) in theaters.

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