Before there was The Hunger Games, there was Battle Royale. Many of us remember high school as a war zone, and in this ludicrous, disturbing, fascinating Japanese film, from crime-epic master Kinji Fukasaku, the feeling is made literal: in some near future on the verge of youth-gang social collapse, Japan’s fascist government randomly selects a class of teens and strands them on an isolated island with one imperative: that they kill each other until one student is left standing. Battle Royale, a very emotional film (try to find a Japanese or Korean film about high school that isn’t), and the kids’ catalog of slights, betrayals, ostracisms, jealousies, and clique-creation becomes, suddenly, a matter of homicidal payback and adolescent prairie justice. You think you had it bad.
If you were there, in the theaters in the summer of 1975, you’ve got Jaws in your DNA. Stephen Spielberg‘s film was the last truly communal movie experiences—everyone saw it, twice, and afterward everyone had a new relationship with the beach. But put the man-eating giant monster shark aside for a moment, and you’ve got full-on, real-to-the-touch Atlantic beach community life, back when people listened to transistor radios in the sand and used suntan oil. The actors’ clothes even seem creased with sand and salt air.
Blow Up, Chappaquiddick, Watergate, JFK, sound engineering, and Philadelphia, all rolled into a crazy plot involving a political assassination that the hero (John Travolta, engagingly relaxed) may have accidentally recorded on audiotape. The background of a berserk City of Brotherly Love during the July Fourth fete is as central to the film, visually and ironically, as the national monuments used by Hitchcock in his works. All in all, a smashing, thoughtful, stirring piece of pulp, and probably the best movie for the holiday.
Dating movies don’t often come this well stocked: for the guys, there’s Harrison Ford as a cop in a suspense-rigged thriller; for the gals, there’s Harrison Ford, as a fish out of water in an amorous tango (in Amish country, no less). Sexual tension is high, but it’s consummated only with gunfire.