[The Final Girls Club] Mitsuko: The (Not So) Final Girl of ‘Battle Royale’

Logo: Rachel Parker

The Final Girls Club posts on the 1st, 3rd and 4th Monday of the month. It aims to take an analytical and retrospective look at female-led horror cinema and how these films hold up in the context of current issues surrounding gender, sexuality and politics.

With Japanese exploitation director Kinji Fukasaku at the helm (at the tender age of 70 no less), a cast of ambitious young actors and actresses — and fueled by the bestselling book of the same name— it was unquestionable that Battle Royale would gain the cult status it now proudly bears. 

The story is focused around a dystopian Japan, in which groups of school children are randomly selected to be part of The Programme. They then fight to the death in a yearly event, with the last one standing crowned the winner. 

However, the film does not have just one champion, but the main characters “win” together, escaping the totalitarian fictional government of East Asia. So, if we’re being specific, the final girl of Battle Royale is Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda). She is the only girl to escape and survive, with the rest of her fellow students slaughtered. However, I propose that the Final Girl of Battle Royale should in fact be girl number 11, Mitsuko Souma (Ko Shibasaki). 

Carol Clover’s work in the influential “Men, Women and Chainsaws” on the concept of the Final Girl in horror solidified the trope as an academic concept. She determined the Final Girl to be the “investigating consciousness” of the film, continually pushing the narrative forward. Other characteristics include a sense of purity that crosses into the boundaries of virginal, high intelligence and obliterating her obstacles to eventually succeed as the victor. When using Clover’s theory, it is important to note her original characteristics were determined through the Slasher genre, with films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre as case studies. Slasher is hailed as birthing the Final Girl concept, with characters such as Scream’s Sidney Prescott or A Nightmare On Elm Street’s Nancy Thompson reigning supreme. Yet, this original iteration of the Final Girl no longer appears at the forefront of horror. Films such as It Follows, You’re Next and Midsommar have spawned a new generation of Final Girls, confident in both their actions and sexuality. As a result, the concept of the Final Girl evolves, and so the characteristics that identify her must too. 

Toei Company

Let’s bring our focus back to Battle Royale. If we use these new traits of the Final Girl that are appearing in modern horror, Mitsuko ticks all the boxes. In fact, there almost exists a contrast between her and the film’s official Final Girl, Noriko. Noriko appears innocent, and in the film has an unusual dreamy connection to the “killer” Kitano (Takeshi Kitano), who supervises the game. On the other hand, Mitsuko is not innocent, and is depicted as a succubus, akin to Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body, often using her looks to seduce and murder her fellow students. This sexual liberation is seen both in the modern iteration of the Final Girl and Mitsuko’s character.

Further evidence exists for Mitsuko’s Final Girl status in her ability to overcome adversaries. Albeit, the film does not have time to delve deep into the backstory of each character, in the novel we learn that she was sexually abused from a young age and abandoned by her father. Although presented in the film as a loner, in the novel she leads a friendship group which engages in stealing from men, almost enacting a macabre revenge for her childhood. Mitsuko’s vulnerability and Mitsuko’s character has a sense of reliability that many other characters lack. Her vulnerability and strength come through both before and during the game, even if her morals may be questionable, her drive to survive is admirable. Although her behaviour verges on psychotic and manipulative, the novel justifies this by explaining that she simply wants to overcome this obstacle, like the others within her life.

Howard Sklar of Helsinki University outlines that “our ability to connect with fictional characters lies in our feeling for their situation”. Providing the storytelling and plot are strong, the ability to connect to a character in a situation the audience is unfamiliar with is possible. Evidently, all of the student characters in Battle Royale are in a ghastly situation, yet the extra layer of understanding we are given around Mitsuko adds to our ability to connect with her. As a character, she is often considered one of the standouts. In fact, the character’s impact was so effective that Quentin Tarantino (avid Battle Royale fan) originally cast her in Kill Bill to play assassin Gogo Yubari’s younger sister. 

The modern Final Girl has depth, something of which lacked in the Final Girls of the Slasher era. And if we are to use the new Final Girl classification, yet another box is ticked by Mitsuko. Her story arc is much larger than most characters, and this allows the audience to invest in it. Although unable to survive the competition, she manages to use her past trauma to propel herself forward in the competition. With the Final Girl trope focusing on the suffering and survival of the character, we see both aspects of this in Mitsuko’s story.  

The actual final survivor of Battle Royale Noriko echoes the Final Girls of the past, becoming more of a side-kick/helper to her male counterpart. Mitsuko offers us a character that we can root for, and despite all of her rather evil behaviour, a character whose death saddens us. She is a dysfunctional character who grows throughout the film, rises and conquers challenges. If we are to adhere to these new characteristics being formulated in modern horror, we can confidently say that Mitsuko is the final girl of Battle Royale. Despite not actually making it to the end.

by Lily Quarton-Parsons

Lily (she/her) is a Sociologist turned copywriter from Nottingham but currently resides in Somerset. With a mild obsession for horror and Japanese cinema, she can be found writing, reading and forcing everyone she knows to re-watch Nathan For You or The Office US for the 50th time. You can follow her on Twitter at @lilyquarton for good quality Drag Race insights and poor quality jokes.

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