Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Battle Royale

I continue to look at Tarantino's influences as they factor into Kill Bill. Some jerks claim he just steals things, but I think it is more complex than that. I think he alludes as Milton alludes to epic poetry -- to rethink the history of his genre.

When I clipped I did not get the subtitles. Summary is below that will help you understand what is going on in the clips.

[Chiaki Kuriyama in her school girl uniform. At the start of Battle Royale]

[Chiaki Kuriyama in a yellow track suit. This kid follows her and wants to talk to her and she rejects him. He points a crossbow at her and they talk in Japanese. She ends up stabbing him in the crotch over and over.]

[The introduction of GoGo, in a bar with a guy who wants to sleep with her. She stabs him in the gut and empties his entrails. She is in the schoolgirl uniform.]

Battle Royale (2000) about a group of middle schoolers kidnaped by the government and brought to an island where they are each given a different item, most often a weapon, sometimes an unusual weapon. They are to kill each other and the last person standing wins and gets to go home. There is a time limit -- if someone does not win in X hours they all die, killed by an exploding collar. Is it possible that this movie is the origin of the exploding remote control collar? In the world of the film the reason for the whole Battle Royale scenario is the following, shown in a title card at the start of the movie: "At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR [Battle Royale] Act...." If this makes sense to you, let me know. I think the gist is "Repress the Youth" but this is a very odd way to do it. The movie is one of the top ten highest grossing movies of all time in Japan.

Chiaki Kuriyama plays Takako Chigusa in Battle Royale. In the first clip, you see her in her schoolgirl uniform at the start of Battle Royale. She is a track star. The second clip shows her later, once the kids have received their instructions and are sent out into the island to kill each other. This boy that she hates but who loves her wants to team up with her. She refuses and he threatens to rape her now that he has a weapon -- though he is not really committed to this. He falters a bit. The crossbow goes off and enraged she takes her revenge.

This is one of Tarantino's favorite movies, and so he cast the same actress, Chiaki Kuriyama, as GoGo in Kill Bill. Again she appears in the schoolgirl uniform and like the kids in Battle Royale she has an unusual weapon (in the fight with Thurman a ball with a spring blade on a chain) that distinguishes her from others. In the the Kill Bill clip above she is introduced, in a scene that echoes her role in Battle Royale. This guy wants to have sex with her, and she stabs him, low, killing him. She "penetrates" him as she puts it to him as he dies. Tarantino goes for entrails rather than the crotch but the effect is very similar.

The effect here is similar to that of a shared comic book universe. Tarantino of course links some of his movies in this way with Michael Parks' sheriff, who appears as the same character in From Dusk Till Dawn (where he dies in the opening scene), Kill Bill, and Death Proof. This is not quite that -- Chiaki Kuriyama dies in Battle Royale in middle school and appears as 17 here. But the feeling persists that a character has come from Battle Royale and joined the story in Kill Bill. The shared comic book universe gives us another way to think about Tarantino and Influence. There is a sense in which Kill Bill works a bit like Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentleman. It thinks about influences by imagining different fictional characters in the same space, literally and metaphorically interacting.

Notice also that in Battle Royale Chiaki Kuriyama wears a yellow track suit, with black and white piping. This is of course similar to Thurman's track suit in The House of the Blue Leaves, and the ultimate origin of Thurman's outfit is Bruce Lee's outfit in his last film Game of Death, which we will get to. I don't suppose that Chiaki Kuriyama's track suit is an allusion to Bruce Lee? If it were we would have something very complex where Thurman is dressed as Bruce Lee via Battle Royale. She of course then goes on to fight guys in Bruce Lee's Kato masks AND GoGo who wore the Yellow track suit in Battle Royale which Thurman wears now. It really does feel like outfits are key to the way Tarantino figures influence, and how he signals his battles with influence. We will expand on this thought as we go.


There is one more small connection between Battle Royale and Kill Bill. In Battle Royale the guy who monitors the kids in the battle get a phone call from an estranged daughter.

[The bad guy from Battle Royale on the phone. You hear the voice of his daughter.]

You never see this daughter in the film. You only hear her voice. Tarantino cast her as the voice of a young O-Ren Ishi in the animated sequence.

[a clip of young O-Ren ishi talking in the animated portion of Kill Bill.]

In both films she exists only as a voice. In Battle Royale she comes into play in the sequel, which I have not yet seen, but is on the list. But the idea creates a link between Lucy Liu's character and GoGo: in the flashback Lucy Liu is a killer school girl like GoGo, and the justification for both positions comes from their links to Battle Royale, which is all about killer school girls.


Mikey said...

I don't have an extensive knowledge of the movies-with-explosive-neck-collars subgenre but for what it's worth Running Man totally had them (I do have a vast recall of shitty 80s action flicks).

Also - on the tracksuit: I loved how you totally knew the second group of women in Death Proof were going to be OK when it switched back to colour to reveal Hey! They're driving the Kill Bill car! (yellow with black stripes - Tarantino refiguring his own influence on himself. Canon and continuity. Neat-o.)

Geoff Klock said...

awesome. Thanks!

pla said...

I'm pretty sure The Running Man is indeed the first exploding collar in movies, but apparently the Durdane novels by Jack Vance are given credit for coming up with the idea.

Also, the Suicide Squad comic had exploding bracelets that served a similar purpose. That came out the same year as The Running Man, but I can't say for sure which came first...

Geoff Klock said...


Doctor X said...

Is "Battle Royale" the original title or a translation? Any connection to the chapter from Ellison's Invisible man?

Christian O. said...

Battle Royale 2 is fucking terrible and I urge you to only watch it on an academic merit.

Geoff Klock said...

Dr X -- no connection to the Ellison thing.

Christian -- thanks!

Anonymous said...

Batoru Rowaiaru was the original title. It was a 1999 novel that was later developed into a manga series (that was co-written by the author) a few years after the film was released. I really don't recommend the manga. I read a bunch of it because the movie was interesting, but the characters are all painful cliches. There are so many duos of the physically dominate male paired with the little buddy who screws up a lot, but gee is he a good person with a strong moral compass (then he dies). And some scenes are really hard to stomach in that way only manga can deliver.

I know people were critical of the novel's sparse, quick moving prose (a little like Palahnuik's I believe), and the static characters. But hey, that's not the point right? It fits in much better with over the top butchery of the exploitation genre Tarantino loves so much and Geoff talks about.

Geoff Klock said...

Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I watched Battle Royale last night for the first time. I'm a fan of the Kill Bills and had a feeling that Tarantino was influenced by BR as I was watching it last night. Thanks for laying out the connections.