Battle Royale

Veteran crime director Fukasaku's sixtieth(!) feature has been met with great controversy in its native Japan for its subject matter, and with good reason: The story takes place in an alternate-reality Japan where, as a response to growing teenage violence, the government has set up a system wherein high school students chosen at random are sent to a remote island with the instructions that they have three days to kill each other. The last one standing gets to go home alive. "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, one of Japan's national treasures, plays the teacher who gleefully pits 42 of his former students against each other in a battle to the death.

Understandably, the idea of 15-year-old boys and girls in school uniforms being forced to murder their friends and sweethearts is not for all tastes. And the film is quite bloody. But as with many other recent Japanese action films, the pacing shifts from furious mayhem to character-centered meditation - and back again - constantly. It's not violence for its own sake, either; in fact, that would be against the very point of the film, which soberly satirizes teen apathy as well as adult irresponsibility, the Japanese tradition of scholarly competitiveness, and the lack of values lurking in the PlayStation-obsessed culture of today. That both humanity and compassion inevitably arise amongst some of the students is as reassuring as Battle Royale itself is troubling.