Nov 15, 2011

REVIEW | Decadent Art | Battle Royale | Koushun Takami | Viz Media 1999

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 Vol.01 Ch.001: The Worst Game in History at
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.  

-Nic White


  1. ContributorNov 21, 2011 09:04 PM
    interesting ideas, however i wonder (and this may just be the paranoid in me) if in some way this novel doesn't already illustrate a form of hyper reality we already live in where we see exhibits taken down for being "an attack on christian values" while living in a capitalist system that literal pits one person against another on a daily basis in order to survive? in the novel ai wei wei would not last a minute, true, doesn't that make his survival today all the more important?
    - miguel garcia
  2. ContributorNov 25, 2011 11:45 PM
    Thanks for posting about this. Friends have told me for a while that I need to see the movie, but I had no idea there was a literary/manga basis for it, let alone serious ideas underlying the whole thing. I've also been hearing The Hunger Games (which I've also never read) is pretty much a cheap knockoff. Now I'm looking forward to comparing.
    - John Elmore
  3. ContributorNov 28, 2011 10:54 AM
    As a big fan of this book, I'm pretty excited that someone chose to review it for the class.

    Aa an artist, I see a pretty strong tie to fear of government censorship and control in the novel. I think the reference to Ai Wei Wei was an excellent one, considering the reality of his situation. The fact that the government not only destroyed his work, but so boldly "kept him captive" and altered his life so intensely is something that shakes me as an artist pretty deeply. Albeit this took place in China in a government very different from our own, it's still nerve wracking to know that the government of a nation as developed as China was take such radical steps to silence a single artist.

    -Brittany Ham
  4. ContributorDec 5, 2011 07:50 PM
    I just got done reading the Hunger Games, and it's a different universe with a similar concept. The reason why I chose Yo Mama's Last Supper is because if the situation was set in America, we are a country with a predominant Christian culture, and this would be pretty blasphemous. But yeah Miguel I do think you have a point about the attack on Christian values. And it is something we have to look out for in the future for our kids and our artwork.

    -Nic White