Proving that there's no such thing as bad publicity, Japanese splatter-fest Battle Royale is piling up ticket sales as quickly as its on-screen body count, grossing $5.45m (Y613m) on its opening weekend, despite, or perhaps because of, politicians' attempts to get the film banned.
Lambasted by politicians and bureaucrats for its hyper-violence, Kinji Fukasaku's dark futuristic tale about teens on a desert island forced to kill each other to the last survivor, has racked up 140,000 admissions after only two days, leading distributor Toei to predict that it will earn between $26.8m (Y3bn) and $35.7m (Y4bn) during its first run.
Battle Royale opened Saturday, December 16, with an R-15 rating from the Eirin industry censorship board, meaning that children under the age of 15 years cannot see the film unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. Despite this restriction, the film has attracted long lines of teens and young adults.
"Most of the audience is under 25, with a 50-50 split between men and woman, which we didn't expect," said a Toei publicist. "We even noticed a surprisingly large number of parents with children. We suspect some parents may have been worried about their kids seeing the film on the sly, though others seem to be going just to see what the fuss is about."
The fuss is rare for a Japanese film of any type, but the official reaction was all but unprecedented, prompted by a recent upsurge in youth crime that has made headlines and created worrisome cracks in Japan's reputation as the safest advanced country in the world. Prior to the film's opening Education Minister Nobutaka Machimura met with film industry representatives to ask them to tone down on-screen mayhem.
Meanwhile, both ruling party and opposition lawmakers issued calls for the film's outright suppression. Even Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori weighed in with the comment that: "If we place greater emphasis on art and entertainment that promotes warm human relations, we could get rid of scenes that exploit violence."
Fukasaku, a 68-year-old veteran celebrated abroad for his Battles Without Honour Or Humanity series about gang wars in early post-war Hiroshima, was bluntly dismissive of the politicians' response. "I think they are stupid,'' he told the Reuters news agency. "I talked with high school students who saw my film in a preview and they all understood it. This shows that politicians have a poorer understanding and such people have no right to comment on movies."