Americans may have felt that time had reversed when post-Second World War Japan outgrew its in loco parentis occupiers by creating an education system that heralded – it seemed by the 1970s – superhuman Japanese tutelage over a new global future, a utopia of unstoppable technological and economic progress. A Japanese popular story of an island within the archipelago, however, provides a glimpse of Japan’s link between knowledge and power from a dystopic angle. Fukasaku Kinji and Fukasaku Kenta’s2 films Battle Royale (BR), released in 2000 and based on a novel by Takami Koushun published in Japanese in 1999,3 and Battle Royale II: Requiem (BRII), released in 2003, have been hugely popular and provocative, if campy and overly violent pieces of social criticism that present a super-inhuman society (Japan, though it could be anywhere) in which adults and children, i.e. the past and the future, are at war. Like other narratives about dystopic youth (reminiscent of Lord of the Flies), the Battle Royale saga reflects the corrupt political world of adults that has been passed down to powerless children. Both stories – the novel/film BR and BRII – concern a classroom of junior high school students “chosen” to demonstrate their loyalty to the state by fighting one another on an island. The two narratives and especially the surprise ending of BRII offer several literary critiques on generational warfare and the battleground of knowledge. The Battle Royale series – I will be referring mainly to the more serious original novel and its sequel, the half-comedic BRII film – critiques an education and social system that segregates children into winners and losers with broader implications for relations among nations. (Takami wrote the original novel; Fukasaku Kenta wrote the adapted screenplay for the first film and original screenplay for the second film. Takami, with Masayuki Taguchi, also made Battle Royale into a manga series. The story also inspired video games.) Education policymakers bequeath national pasts for future resources, balancing needs to stratify young people for economic needs or unify them for national needs, namely for security and war. Foreign policies also consolidate national identities while simultaneously conducting aggressive economic policies that ignore citizens in favor of securing profitable markets. Education and foreign policies can isolate or ostracize those who do not fit, whether they are so-called “losers” in economic/educational warfare, or non-citizens in the “realist” conception of
international relations that assumes nation-states are fortified islands in a world of anarchy and mistrust. In the best case, increased human interaction from market activity can create new spaces for improved living standards and democratization. But education practices that seek out the best students in the same way that economic policies seek out the best markets can create a substratum of “disposable” humans who feel cut off from the mainstream prosperous society; they come to feel “foreign,” as if non-citizens. Their freedom is illusory since they have such limited choices; in rigidly stratified education systems, there are no second chances. Those who are left out might vent their frustrations on those with even less power, leading to continuous cyclical revenge. Battle Royale and BRII expose the vengeful capacity of the ostracized other to revolt against the state, sometimes indirectly through weaker others. BRII also shows how easily the weak take refuge under a strong leader who articulates their frustrations, a daily phenomenon in Japan according to Takahashi Tetsuya,4 which is not to say that other countries do not share such practices. BR and BRII are not just coming-of-age rebellion morality plays; they are literary reflections of political regimes in conflict between fast, efficient unstoppable capital, and static, flag-waving patriotism. The fact that the two ideologies often cannot reconcile – one either beats their rivals or bonds with them – is manifest in Battle Royale as the ultimate clash of death. Takami’s original Battle Royale novel projects an imagined Japan as it might have been had it emerged as a victor in the Pacific War (the Pacific side of the Second World War); it is a highly centralized Republic ruling over other Asian countries and is an enemy of the United States. Yet as a metaphor of Japan’s postwar economic power, children are not fully bound to one another in fortified national identity, but made into enemies through an endless competition for survival. The film sequel, BRII, then transposes this internal other into the politically delicate aftermath of 9/11, shortly after the US-led war in Afghanistan began and the United States under President George W. Bush was searching for a “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq. It situates children at war with adults in a “Japan” that is clearly the neglected lesser member of the American-led economic and military empire.