Children Have No Hope for the Future'

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The controversial new Japanese film Battle Royale is aptly named, for it has provoked debate over its graphic portrayals of teens killing one another in a modern-day take on Lord of the Flies. Violence is nothing new to the director, 70-year-old Kinji Fukasaku, known for yakuza films and the World War II epic Tora Tora Tora. In a discussion with TIME Tokyo bureau chief Tim Larimer, Fukasaku defends his use of violence. Edited excerpts: TIME: Battle Royale is terribly violent. Do Japan's politicians have a point?Fukasaku: It's stupid. The politicians just heard that I was making a film, and without seeing it, objected to it. So we invited 50 or so people from the Diet [Japan's parliament] and the Education Ministry to see the film, and afterwards tried to have a discussion with them. But they came with a fixed prejudice. TIME: What was their beef?Fukasaku: They say they don't want children to watch it. They want the government to stop children from seeing it. (The film had already been slapped with a rating keeping out children younger than 16.) TIME: Isn't this kind of brouhaha actually good publicity for your film?Fukasaku: Yes it has been, but I'm not comfortable with it. 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(Legislation to curb violence and sex in movies, TV and magazines, is set to be debated later this year.) I thought this had nothing to do with my work, but gradually I see that it does. Because of the low popularity of the current cabinet, the LDP wants something to attract the support of the people. That makes me angry. TIME: It's true, though, that there has been an increase in youth-related crimes. What do you think is going on?Fukasaku: There is miscommunication between adults and children. That's one cause of an increase in juvenile delinquency. When the bubble burst in Japan, adults, especially salarymen, lost their confidence and hope. That affected the kids. They face the same inability to communicate with adults that we had when we were kids. TIME: You've never made a film about teenagers before. What got you interested in this one?Fukasaku: I've always wanted to make such a film. At the same time, many infamous crimes, like the Kobe beheading case, were committed by 15-year-olds. That made me review what I was doing when I was 15. In fact I was working at an armaments factory -- I was in junior high then. And everyday, the factory was bombed. I had to clean up the corpses of other kids who were killed. Then, all of a sudden, Japan lost the war. Adults lost confidence, which resulted in the miscommunication with children I spoke about earlier. TIME: You are 70. How difficult was it for you to relate to today's adolescents?Fukasaku: Many people were against me making this film. They said, 'You are 70. Why make a film about 15-year-olds?' But I always wanted to make such a film. The age 15 is special to me. When Japan started invading China, it was 1930, which was when I was born. Then the China-Pacific War, what we called the 15- year war, ended when I was 15. My birth and my growing up ran parallel to the war. TIME: Of course, the conditions your generation faced were much more grim than conditions today.Fukasaku: Yes, totally different. Today, cities haven't been burned down and destroyed. The distrust, though, between adults and children is as strong as it was when I was 15. And it's getting even deeper. Adults have lost hope for tomorrow. Children have no hope for the future. TIME: Did you intend Battle Royale to be a warning?Fukasaku: No. I just wanted to convey my experience, my sense of everything collapsing. A sense of living, and a sense of death. I wanted to convey that to kids. TIME: Were there any difficulties directing your young cast?Fukasaku: I am 70 so my point of view, the way I see things, must be very different than 15-year-olds. So I let my son handle the kids. TIME: Your son?Fukasaku: Yes, it was Kenta's idea to make the film. (Kenta is his 28-year-old son, an aspiring filmmaker.) He read the novel and wanted to make the film himself. But he told me about it and I decided I wanted to do it. I guess fathers can do that. I tried to use my experience, dealing with death 55 years ago, to make the film. TIME: So your idea was to show how young people react in such horrific circumstances?Fukasaku: It's a parable, like a fairy tale. Rather than make it realistic, like a documentary, I made the film as a fairy tale. TIME: I kept my eyes covered during some of the bloodier scenes. Was the violence necessary?Fukasaku: It was necessary to reveal my experience. You can't believe what it was like. It was really horrifying. We were bombed everyday and I had to clean up corpses. I was only 15! TIME: How true to the novel is your film?Fukasaku: The novel attracted many young readers for its entertainment value. It narrated killing as a game. My experience, though, was very different. I wanted to convey a more concrete image of war in the film -- while telling it as a fairy tale -- because war can never be told enough. TIME: How would you feel if you woke up tomorrow and read in the newspaper that some teenager had mimicked one of the killings you depict in this film?Fukasaku: It's not the responsibility of the film. There are kids who say they copy crimes they see. But is that the real cause of the crime? Deep inside them, there must be some other reason. Those details, however, are never reported. Nobody seriously is analyzing the causes of these crimes. This is exactly what the politicians asked me to do. I simply said no. It's not my responsibility. TIME: Should filmmakers try to limit the amount of violence they depict?Fukasaku: It depends on the story you want to tell. In my film, the main theme is the restoration of trust. The kids are afraid of other kids who might kill them, but in the end, they recover their sense of trust. That is the way I take responsibility for the violence. TIME: Some critics say it's just exploitation, violence for violence sake?Fukasaku: I am relating my experience during the war. I was 15 at the time. I saw corpses. I collected and buried them. I learned the meaning of death and war. TIME: It's interesting that after all these years and all the films you have made, this wartime experience is so close to you.Fukasaku: That's the root of who I am. In the 1970s, after the Vietnam War, there was a request for violent films in the U.S. At the same time, I wanted to make violent films. I wanted to revitalize my experience and put people in violent situations and relay a sense of lost hope. Now we live in such a peaceful society. I just wanted to make the film revitalize that sense of fear. TIME: I'd like to ask your son about his involvement in the film. Kenta, was the film your idea?Kenta: Yes. TIME: Does it annoy you that your father took it from you?Kenta: Well, as a result, the film was better. He has the experience of a 70- year-old. We did have lots of arguments, though. TIME: About what?Fukasaku (interrupting): I wanted to have one scene where kids are burning corpses. That was something I experienced, but Kenta disagreed. He said burning corpses would make the film more like a documentary. TIME: Kenta, what else did you disagree about?Kenta: We didn't really disagree about this, but my idea about the difference between adults and children today is the word gambare. After World War II, Japan had economic growth. The most symbolic event was the Tokyo Olympics [in 1964]. The people said gambare and believed they had a goal. Then they reached their goal. Now society itself, and the economy, is declining. The word gambare doesn't mean much to us anymore. We thought about giving the film a happy ending. But we couldn't do that. Young Japanese people don't feel gambare anymore. TIME: So tell us about your next film?Fukasaku: I'd like to make one with young people again. And I'd like to make another fairy tale. Fairy tales don't have to be nice and cute. They can be dark.