Japanese pols target pic of violent youth

R15 'Battle' set to hit screens Dec. 16

TOKYO – Toei’s new pic “Battle Royale” is stirring just that among Japanese politicians.

On the heels of an emerging critical stir (Variety, Nov. 27-Dec. 3), the Japanese parliament held a special screening of the film — about a fight to the death among high school students — then blasted its director in unprecedented fashion for making a crude picture that’s out of touch with the public’s growing concern over youth violence.

“Battle Royale” is skedded to roll out on more than 200 screens on Dec. 16. The pic is rated R15 (no one under age 15 admitted) — a classification exhibs say is rarely used in Japan.

A nonpartisan group of 13 MPs and 22 officials representing other MPs saw the film Nov. 28, then sat down with director Fukasaku Kinji to hash out their concerns over the movie, in which teen kills teen with emotionless frequency.

Strong labels

“The movie is crude and it is tasteless,” Koki Ishii of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party told the director.

Opposition Democratic Party member Masahiro Morioka followed suit, saying, “This movie is anti-social. It shows distinct acts of violence that have no place on the screen.”

In contrast to the simmering battle between the U.S. Congress and Hollywood, Japanese politicians have been virtually silent on movie violence and its influence on society until this point.

Hot-button issue

Indeed, Japan is a market that almost never raises an eyebrow over a movie because of excessive violence. “The Matrix” went out with a general admission rating, but a roster of recent crimes involving teens has galvanized public opinion that youth violence has reached new heights and is eating away at the fabric of society.

“Battle Royale” is set in an apocalyptic future in which the country is in a state of collapse, unemployment stands at 15%, schools are marred by uncontrolled violence and students stage mass boycotts. In response, the government organizes an annual Battle Royale, in which a randomly chosen class is pitted against itself on an abandoned island in a cruel game of survival. “Battle” stars Beat Takeshi, who has won international acclaim as a director but has a record of having little box office appeal in the domestic market.

Prior problems

While Toei is hoping for solid B.O. on the pic, the company has a history of missteps with controversial subjects. In May 1998, Toei released an apologist movie about convicted war criminal Gen. Hideki Tojo, called “Pride — The Fateful Moment.” Toei assembled an international cast and was planning to take the movie overseas. But instead of finding international buyers, it was hit with official protests from the governments of China and North Korea, which slammed the company for whitewashing Japan’s wartime history and brutal aggression in Asia.

“Battle,” with its depictions of teenager murdering teenager, is not likely to sit well with the general public, considering that numerous opinion polls have shown that the most pressing social issues in Japan are youth crime and violence.

In recent months, a 17-year-old boy hijacked a bus, held an elementary school girl at knifepoint and stabbed a women to death in a hostage standoff broadcast on national television. A month later, another 17-year-old fought with a classmate over a haircut, then went home and clubbed his mother to death with a bat because she reportedly would not lend him pocket money.

Following those incidents, the Parliament this month was able to rally support from the ruling coalition and opposition parties to easily pass the first amendment to the Juvenile Crime Law since 1949.