|Battle Royale, Koushun Takami Viz Media 1999|
There are many single words that could describe this book if you wanted to describe it. Controversial, contemporary, cult classic, dirty, edgy, violent are primarily associated with the book I'm reviewing for this blog. If you've seen or heard of this title of the novel before, it spawned a movie that doesn't do the novel justice and a 15 volume manga series. Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami, is a 21st century Lord of the Flies involving third-year junior high students pitted against each other in a winner-takes-all survival game.
This story takes place in an alternate timeline where Japan has a strict dictatorship government ruled over by an executive authority coincidentally called "the Dictator." In this government, military rule is supreme, and Japan cuts almost all ties to the outside countries that wouldn't approve of the way they rule their country. Internet, music, art, books, television, video games, and any forms of learning is contained to what "the Dictator" wants you to learn, everything else from other countries are considered "decadent." Having any of this western contraband is met with severe punishment and consequences.
The main point of the book is survival of the fittest, pitting 42 students against each other with a fight to the death with this government sponsored show called "The Program," with the last one standing getting the "prize." Students/classroom and location are chosen at random once every two years, and at the beginning of the book, the author gives good description of what's going on and drops you right into the story. However, my main point of this blog and how this ties into contemporary art is the considered "decadent" art, what that is in the novel, and what could be considered decadent in our reality.
|Battle Royale (Manga), Page 1 (read right to left)|
In the story, main character Shuya Nanahara is an all around nice guy who befriends almost everyone he can, even during the kill-or-be-killed situation he's been put in. He's also a lover of the "decadent" rock music. His friend Shinji Mimura hacks the Internet to get news from western countries, along with video games and television shows they can't get in Japan. These things that they have to sneak around for in this novel are things we see no problems with here in our country, but what in our society would be considered decadent besides these things? What artwork? One person that came to my mind (prior to our recent class discussion) is Ai Wei Wei and his contemporary art. Wei Wei an Asian artist would have been prosecuted many years ago and many times if he were to have shown any of his artwork to the public in this alternate reality. Another artist would be Yue Minjun. His strange oil paintings has made him one of China's most famous artists, painting himself in a frozen laughing state, giving this creepy and unique style in contemporary art today. Although he wants his art to be taken as positive and happy, discussion can be lead in many ways of his art being positive or negative towards political machinations of China.
|Execution, Yue Minjun, 1989|
What about in America? What if this alternate reality was set in the United States? Besides many of the journalists, musicians, and creative minds, many artists would be on the chopping block. One of the most controversial artists here in America is Renee Cox, an African-American woman who was made famous for her painting Yo Mama's Last Supper. She has sparked controversy with her photography many times, and would be one of those artists that wouldn't have survived very long in this alternate reality.
|Yo Mama's Last Supper, Renee Cox 1996|
All in all, I'm happy that we don't live in a world that limits our creative minds to what the government deems acceptable to our society. Battle Royale's underlying subplot of decadence and immorality in our creative minds is brought up several times through this gruesome, yet amazing, story, and I implore anyone with a strong stomach to check it out... or if your lazy and don't want to get the full amazing experience, check the movie out.