Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Online Film Journalism: Battle Royale review

REVIEW: DVD Release: Battle Royale

Battle Royale
Film: Battle Royale
Release date: 5th April 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 109 mins
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Beat Takeshi, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Chiaki Kuriyama, Aki Maeda, Noriko Nakagawa, TarĂ´ Yamamoto
Genre: Thriller/Action
Studio: Arrow
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

Could you kill your best friend? For anyone who is not familiar with Battle Royale, the tagline printed along the top of the DVD case says it all. 42 students let loose on an island with an assortment of weapons and the promise of death can mean only one thing.

Having wasted no time in spotting the potential in Koushan Takami’s graphic novel published in 1999, Kinju Fukasaku promptly presented the film viewing public with his adaptation in 2000. The crux of the plot is basic enough. At the turn of the millennium, Japan is in chaos. Unemployment is rife, with 15% of its population left jobless; this means a total of ten million people trying to live on no income. Given our own present economic climate, this very detail hits a nerve and drives the problem home with a sledgehammer. Especially when we see what a society in such turmoil has turned to in order to conquer its demons.

Youth runs riot and school children skip school “‘cos we felt it”, as they write on Kitano’s (Beat Takeshi) blackboard. When they do choose to turn up, anarchy ensues, and Kitano is literally stabbed in the back. In an effort to control the new generations, the Battle Royale act is passed: every year a randomly selected class is subjected to three nights of pure survival; not that many see the third night. School children are told to kill or be killed and it isn’t long before they begin to realise just how serious their situation is, and begin to play the lawless game…

The plot’s simplicity leaves plenty of room for character profiles. The viewer is introduced to several students and allowed glimpses of their personal lives. Kitano is also given his own plight; initially, the defiant teenagers that he has to deal with beg the viewer to sympathise with and even pity him. But his participation in the barbaric regime awards him a dose of smug arrogance, and he finally appears to have some control over his tormentors. Finally, a reminder of his home life humbles him once more before his surreal finale that combines both sides of his story. Kitano isn’t the only one with a history; whilst Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is the hero of the piece, and it is actually his tragic story that audiences are most familiar with - each pupil has their own string to add to the story’s bow, their own priorities and their own interests at heart. Fukasaku falls back onto teenage stereotypes that make Battle Royale more of a high school drama than the speculative science fiction film that its premise may imply.

There are the geeks, who take their hands to science and technology with a view of crashing the Big Brother-esque system that controls their fate. There are the stunningly attractive girls on the edge of womanhood who are superficial and unstoppable in their quest for self-fulfillment. Then there is the dark and mysterious loner, the enigmatic outcast. But these cliques work, for what are stereotypes if not short-hand versions of real personalities? In a film that discloses so many character-driven subplots, a cast of complex individuals would confuse and busy the story to an unbearable degree.

Despite the severity of their circumstances, true to that high school genre of film, characters are largely hormone driven. Between doing battle with cross-bows and embedding exes in each other’s heads, they manage to find chance to squabble over who feels what for whom, which ones are the virgins, and who stood who up. Such trivial tribulations of adolescent life enhance the violence, which is motivated by grudges and vendettas. At its most rudimentary level, Battle Royale is a whirlwind of blood and hormones.

It’s not all about fast-paced fight scenes, though. Of course, this is what the film is famed for, and no doubt always will be - there is certainly no denying the delightful excess of gore, but Fukasaku brings more to the story. He builds an omnipresence of distrust and paranoia that persistently bubbles beneath the bloody surface. In rare scenes where fighting has subdued to dialogue, nerves tighten in anticipation of the next revelation that will subsequently lead to renewed aggression. Similarly, in Kitano’s scenes, Beat Takeshi exudes a black aura of tongue-in-cheek humour, and the novelty of severed heads and torn flesh gives way to the novelty of Kitano’s dry quips.

Inevitably, Battle Royale’s reputation will always precede the film itself, but this is the curse of the niche being absorbed into the mainstream. Potential viewers must not let this hype deter them, for Battle Royale truly is a classic of the future. Already a decade since its production, it feels as contemporary as the latest blockbusters and even more poignant. RS

Rating: 5/5

Monday, 20 December 2010

Online Music Journalism: An Axe - Destructo!/ Cherry double single review

An Axe - Destructo! / Cherry

By Robyn Simmons
An Axe - Destructo!

Allow yourself, if you will, to be transported to the shores of an untouched island; rainforests impenetrably thick, sands blindingly white, tides dazzlingly clear. And then take that vision and thrash a cold shard of jagged glass right through the centre. That’s what Bristol-based An Axe serves up with the first half of their double single, ‘Destructo!'

Friday, 10 December 2010

Online Music Journalaism: Straight Razor Angels abum review

Straight Razor Angels - Straight Razor Angels

By Robyn Simmons
Straight Razor Angels
Straight Razor Angels
Having stomped it up with The Meteors and cooled it down with The Puppini Sisters, Straight Razor Angels already pack a punch on the rockabilly scene. Believe it or not, their self-titled album is their first studio venture, but can it live up to the band’s live accomplishments?

‘Straight Razor Angels’ certainly opens with true rockabilly punk attitude. Vampy guitar and snappy drums drive ‘On the Pull’ like a greasy six litre hotrod across town. Its hard-hitting rhythm will have listeners immediately stamping their toes and fantasising about decades past. Despite this, the following tracks, however, don’t quite fulfil the expectations that the first track instils. We want more loud, heavy drums and gutsy guitar; more contagiously catchy, slightly manic and ever so relentless noise that only the vigour of youth will ever understand. But we don’t quite get that; at least not until Straight Razor Angels steer the album back to the chaotic, country-twinged ‘Bad Times’, which sets the record back on that dusty southern road to rockabilly for the final tracks.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Online Music Journalism: Anberlin - We Owe Ourselves single review

Written for Live-Music-Scene October 2010

Anberlin - We Owe Ourselves

By Robyn Simmons

Last time they counted, Anerblin had sold over 700,000 albums. Their first single, ‘Feel Good Drag’ reached the top of the Alternative Song chart two years ago, and the year before that they managed to bag a major record deal with Universal. So you’d be forgiven for expecting something special from this alt-Christian rock affair. But to anyone listening to ‘We Owe Ourselves This’, those feats are likely to go undetected.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Online Music Journalism: COMEG - Touched with Fire album review

COMEG - Touched by Fire

Comeg - Touched With Fire

By Robyn Simmons

The opening science fiction sound effects on ‘Face Away’ may lure you into expectations of Hawkwind or Doctor Who’s tardis, but don’t be fooled. Comeg is not an experimental prog rock venture; rather, they are a cool, confident trio who exude poise and self-assurance. ‘Touched With Fire’ is frontman Coemgen Savage’s seventh album and it shows. With a mature sound that radiates wisdom, Savage easily convinces the listener that he has lived through what he writes. Earthy, driven and grounded, ‘Touched With Fire’ is a good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll album, somehow trustworthy and reliable.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Online Music Journalism: Port Erin - I'll be on the Common album review

Port Erin
Port Erin

Port Erin - I'll be on the Common

They might be named after a town on the ‘Lonely Isle’ of Man, but Port Erin kick off ‘I’ll Be On The Common’ in a seemingly deliberate attempt to quash that association. Starting at one place and ending at a completely different one, streetwise bass and ubiquitous drums take listeners on a journey through urban, ska-inspired alleyways before wielding to pastures gentle and melodic in surrender to their Manx namesake. If you were to close your eyes, the opening tracks of the trio’s debut might take you to the lonely pavements of a dirty concrete jungle in the middle of a drizzly night. Edgy and atmospheric and maybe even a little uncomfortable, you’d never guess that the same band came up with the warm summery tunes that the album concludes with.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Online Music Journalism: Avon Calling 2 album review

Published on live-music-scene, Aug 2010
Various - Avon Calling 2

Various - Avon Calling 2

When John Peel describes an album as “truly superb, the compilation that all others should be judged by”, people prick up their ears. They know that they need to listen. This was the first ‘Avon Calling’ record, a Bristolian compilation put together in 1979, designed to Bristol on the musical map.

Heartbeat Records was the driving force behind the project, laying claim to being Bristol’s first independent record label. Now, their archives have been raided by Bristol Archive Records and ‘Avon Calling 2’ is being released in recognition and celebration of hidden gems that have been locked in the vaults for over thirty years.

Prose: Paragraph Planet: Rest in the Summer

Featured on front page 10th July 2010

Rest in the Summer

It takes persistence, patience and perseverance,
but every effort is worth it. The warmth that
soaks into my skin and the breeze that sweeps
over my body finally lull me into complete
relaxation. After constantly battling the
temptation of idleness, I am learning to let go.
I fearlessly reject those nagging, festering
guilt trips that rule my day. I am sinking into
the earth, dancing with the wind and laughing
with the sun. 

Prose: Paragraph Planet: I Love Cake

Feature on front page Dec 26th 2009

I Love Cake

I've given in to my craving. I'm not hungry,
just weak. My teeth sink into the cocoa sponge,
springy and soft. It dissolves over my tongue,
washes over my gums. My bite is challenged by
joyful chunks of solid chocolate; diamonds in a
treasure chest. The secret sound as they break
into countless pieces vibrates through my jaw
before they melt into a memory. I'm guilty
before it's completely over. But i'm satisfied.  

Friday, 19 November 2010

Prose: Paragraph Planet: Waking

Featured on front page 4th Oct 2009

A distant, electronic melody creeps into my mind
and stirs me. Sleep weighs heavy, bearing down
on me, on my eyes. Dreams cling to the inside of
my head like dew, and I try to grasp them as if
I were a traveller trekking through desert,
dying of thirst. They escape me though. I try to
chase them, but it’s too late; lost for another
day. Already, I look forward to laying my head
down tonight.