'Battle Royale' - Due to distribution rights issues, Kinji Fukasaku's 'Battle Royale,' based on the 1999 novel by Koushun Takami, has never before been available on home video in America. Word of mouth has carried the film over the years, leading to a number of imports, most recently the 10,000 print run Arrow limited edition box set Blu-ray edition from the UK. Since a planned attempt was shelved due to a number of school shooting rampages over the years, the film's greatness has yet to be sullied by a direct American remake. Still, those unfamiliar with the tale will recognize many aspects of its story, due to its influence on other works, and the similarities to other tales in classic cinema. Equal parts 'The Most Dangerous Game' and 'The Lord of the Flies,' only with the violent content amplified to unreal levels, 'Battle Royale' has spawned imitators around the world, domestically in the forms of 'The Condemned' and, more recently, the brazen rip off 'The Hunger Games' (whose author claims innocence when it come to the "similarities"...yeah, right).
'Battle Royale' may stand as one of the most effective films ever made, even if it has issues that prevent it from being considered among the best, period. With the number of themes and meanings dripping from every scene, every action, and the intense plotting that attempts to show the entire spectrum of responses to a predicament, there's so much thought put into the scenario that it's hard to not appreciate its thoroughness and various intricacies. Those who disdain the wanton glorification of violence should avoid this borderline sadistic flick.
In Japan, the youth have grown out of control, to the point that the leaders of the country have instituted a new law, the B.R. act, which takes one randomly selected class of students and whisks them off to an island where they are to be the unwilling participants in a kill-or-be-killed game. The Shioroiwa Junior High School 9th grade Class B students thought they were going on a class trip, but were gassed along the way, and woke up in a bizarre classroom on an abandoned island. There, they're told the rules: they have three days to whittle down their ranks to just one survivor; if any more than that remain at the end of the time limit, they will all be killed via the exploding collars around their necks. The island is zoned, and every six hours, new areas will be cordoned off, where trespassing will result in the collars activating, effectively removing pacifism or the ability to hide from one's pursuers and force confrontation. They are given a bag; its contents are food and water, a map, a flashlight, and a random "weapon." Not everyone will get a sword or a shotgun. They must kill or be killed, and this urgency leads to distrust among even life-long friends. These 42 students must all fight if even one of them is to survive.
Now, the subject matter may not sit will with most, especially with the high school shootings and college massacres gaining increased scrutiny in the years after Columbine. This moral tale doesn't pick just one road to tell its tale, as the varying students, who at only 15 aren't emotionally equipped to handle this type of situation, react in varying ways. Will attempting to band together save lives? Can one survive without murdering anyone? Who will snap under pressure and give in to primal urges in order to outlive the rest? Is there any escape? Every possible outcome is explored, including suicide, which may also offend some viewers. There's no easy way to watch and dismiss the content in this film as fiction, not these days.
Director Fukasaku brings a lot to the plate with his own personal experiences, having detailed in an interview how, at 15 during WWII, a munitions company in which students were forced to work came under fire, causing mass casualties, leaving him with extreme distrust for adults. It's easy to see where he's coming from, and what statements he wants to reinforce with the film. Adults force the students to kill or be killed, especially former teacher Kitano (Beat Takashi), who acts as the leader of the military controlling the three day event. A few of the students have had bad encounters with their elders, from students losing parents to suicide, or even an odd situation where one seems to have become the object of affection to Kitano. One student is scarred mentally due to having previously killed, when her own mother pimped her out to a man at a very, very young age. Even the ending, before a trio of requiems reinforce a few key moments, tells youth that they are to run for all they're worth, to not trust those in positions of authority. There are also parallels in the film to the "coming of age" into adulthood, representing the way youths will cut their own throats to get ahead in the real world.
The distrust of previous generations isn't the only important theme in this film, even if it becomes more and more evident with each viewing. The interaction between students is the key to this film. As is the case with any group of students this age, there is nothing but drama. Who's crushing on who, who dislikes who, who wants to succeed and will sacrifice anything to do so, who have formed cliques, and so on. By introducing two "transfer" students into the class for the competition, there are other elements at play, as one student has joined solely for the fracas, to kill with no consequence; the other, a veteran of the program, whose intentions are unknown, aside from an inkling about revenge for his own losses in a previous year. We see people change, in a very short period of time, when pressed against the wall. There is even focus on what power, or the illusion thereof, does to some of the students, who try to take advantage of situations in ways they never would have before. These students, some who may have known each other their entire lives, find out they really don't know anything about each other, and what exactly they're capable of.
As students names flash across the screen after their death, stating in a matter of fact way how many are left "to go," one has to wonder how serious this film really is, as it makes its own little tongue-in-cheek jokes at the scenario it displays. This is a remorseless, efficient film that is borderline dangerous, as much as any film can be. It's effective as all get out, and should invoke plenty of thoughts in the minds of the viewers, about humanity as a whole. When removed from the restrictions of law and order, what are we really? Would we kill, or be killed? Would we fight to survive, by any means necessary, or would we chicken out of life itself? Few films with as much action as 'Battle Royale' can claim to be anywhere near as thought-provoking. That's just another reason why this arterial-spraying masterpiece earns each and every star I give it.
Comparing Cuts: 'Battle Royale: Director's Cut' (Blu-ray disc one) vs 'Battle Royale: Theatrical Cut (Blu-ray disc two)
There are two versions of this film, the "director's cut" being also called a "special edition." This particular cut is eight minutes longer than the "theatrical cut," and doesn't necessarily make for a more expansive, better viewing experience. The major changes in this cut concern: additional CG blood splatters (that can sometimes be a little comical or excessive, to the point of being ridiculous), the elaboration of exactly who is being referenced as dying (as the characters aren't all given enough time to have memorable names), sometimes to point out that their death is ironic. There are some close-up shots of corpses, a few moments mourning the mass deaths being witnessed, and, importantly, the pimp/rape scene of young Mitsuko, which explains her mental state.
The other big change in the film is a flashback to a basketball game featuring Class B, in their time before entering "the B.R. Program," that is a recurring theme, as we see the reactions of the characters to each other, in simpler, more normal times. We see some students being outcasts, and others showing their enthusiasm for a few classmates in particular. Also, finally, the three "requiems" are removed from the shorter version of the film. This means we don't ever see the basketball bounce in reverse, not in the dream sequence, nor the requiem, nor do we get that final conversation between Kitano and the object of his ill-placed affection. This does hurt a little, as his obsession with one of the students is somewhat underdeveloped as it stands in the theatrical edition of the film.
Personally, I prefer the shorter version of the film. It seems to flow better, without the flashbacks, callbacks, and random information that we're to process later. It seems that the longer version is a bit more for the existing fans of the film, who want to get a little more character development out of the tertiary characters, just those short bits to explain why they are what they are, rather than as a byproduct of the environment they're thrust into. The way the story on the island isn't interrupted with lots of backstory is appreciable, as well, for those interested in the story, who don't quite need all the nitty gritty details that sometimes benefit a film, but sometimes bog it down instead. While the extended cut of the film fixes a couple minor mistakes, it adds some unnecessary burden and can stall a freight train of a film for an additional half a minute to two minutes at a time. I know there are plenty of viewers, more ardent fans than I, who appreciate the extended version far more than the theatrical. There is no wrong choice on this one. The changes are beyond noticeable, but one way or another, the film is still amazingly effective.
'Battle Royale II: Requiem' - At the end of 'Battle Royale,' we learned how truly cruel the game was, as the winners of the game were pronounced wanted criminals; murderers. The promise that they could go back to their homes was just another lie the adults have fed the youth of the nation. Three years have passed, and a terrorist group called Wild Seven, comprised of the youth, including the past winners of the Battle Royale Program, have caused quite the stir in the country of Japan, their bombings taking out massive buildings, causing wanton carnage and death. In retaliation, the Millenniu Anti-Terrorist Act, aka BRII, has been put into effect. Another class of students will be taken, this time the 9th grade Class B from Shikanotoride Middle School. Only, their job won't be to kill each other. Their mission, and their lives, depend on their ability to kill Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara).
The director of 'Battle Royale' died early on in the making of this sequel, and his son, Kenta Fukasaku, took the reigns and finished the film... though it should have been buried alongside his pop. 'Battle Royale II: Requiem' is an absolute nightmare, one of the most tonally uneven, ridiculous, nonsensical reiterations of an instant cult classic ever made. It's painfully slow, and unforgivingly long as a consequence. I actually found it difficult to avoid nodding off while watching a film I've been waiting a good seven years to finally see! I wish I could purge any memory that this film exists, and go back to just watching the two cuts of the first film over and over, praying that America can't get the remake off the ground.
The problem with 'Requiem' is that it doesn't make any sense, whatsoever. It's so brazenly stupid, it can't help but trip over itself at every turn. So, this time, a group of misfits is "randomly" chosen. They have no future prospects, whatsoever. As soon as they graduate, their commencement into adult life is the involuntary enrollment into BRII. Again, 42 students wake up, collared, fearing for what is happening...only this group of students knows what is going to happen...or so they thought.
The rules have changed. Students are now paired together, boy and girl. Remember in the original film, how the students were called "Girl #7" or "Boy #12?" Well, now the boys and girls are paired up, their corresponding number making them a team. If one dies...the other dies. If one gets more than fifty meters away from his or her partner, or ventures into a danger zone...they and their partner die. That's right, the danger zones are back, despite the fact that the students have no pacifist choices this time around, what with the well-armed and trained militaristic faction they're about to face. The students are all given the same pack this time (no pot lids, binoculars, or ceremonial fans, just automatic weapons)...yet, no ammo.
The irrational moves continue to add up. The government shows a willingness to use actual troops, yet the first thing they do is send the students, with a 72 hour deadline. They're willing to shell the Wild Seven island stronghold to smithereens, yet they send the kids first, pointlessly. They learn nothing of the value or meaning of life, or their own nature, in the process. All they learn is how they must participate in what they're told, or die, and take their friends with them. Compulsory service. That's the only real theme.
The deaths pile up fast, and don't stand out, as the characters are merely bullet and bomb fodder, just sheep to the slaughter. They rip off 'Saving Private Ryan' with a beach landing, with the same boats, same shooting style, same mountain stronghold...only this time there's snipers and mortars, not just chain guns. Their teacher no longer has the obvious motivation, his turn on his students making no sense, whatsoever. Worse still, we learn in 'Requiem' how, exactly, to remove the necklaces that are vital to the story, and all they ever needed was a Dremel tool. It's as if this film wanted to be as anti-climactic and nonsensical as possible.
The terrorist ravings are silly, their threats minimal, considering we never see their strength. They're more dissenters than anything else, their crime being they don't trust the adults who forced them to be murderers. The random commentary on America's bombings of countries, or the children of war around the world are misplaced. The entire film has its head up its own ass, and it's gasping for air the entire time. There's no more emotional center to the film, no way to relate to the crisis. This is a film parody of itself, proof that it's best to leave flawless alone. A pointless, unnecessary sequel, 'Battle Royale II: Requiem' is one of the most painful film experiences one can endure.
'Battle Royale: Extended Cut' movie score: 5/5
'Battle Royale: Theatrical Cut' movie score: 5/5
'Battle Royale II: Requiem' movie score: 1.5/5
The Disc: Vital Stats
Awesomeness, ahoy! When the package containing 'Battle Royale: The Complete Collection' came in, I couldn't wait to rip open the box and dive right into this set. Tucked under a clear slipcover (similar to that found on first pressings of 'Let Me In' or 'Transformers'), the packaging for this box set replicates a book, right on down to the spine covering and labeling. Inside the pages of the book are a few slide-out pages, where owners have to grip slightly the edge of a disc to remove it from its sleeve. In five attempts, I left five fingerprints needing to be cleaned...not good. But that's my only complaint with the packaging, as it really does look quite nice, classy, and doesn't scratch up the discs. The discs themselves do not have any markings for what film they are for, other than the marking of what disc number they are. It's a little annoying.
Discs one and two in this set share identical menus, and all three film discs are barren of extras. After three Region A marked BD50 discs, we also have a fourth disc, a DVD9, for extras. As is mentioned in the review, this set marks the first time these films are legally available for the North American market. There is also a release for the first film only on Blu-ray, and according to Amazon, it is a one disc edition, whose length matches up to the extended cut of the film. DVD releases are also coming day and date with the Blu-ray for both editions.
This film has already been released a few times on Blu-ray in other countries. In the UK, a DVD sized locker case (numbered to 10,000) includes three discs, featuring both cuts of the film and is Region A/B/C. The second pressings, which match Arrow's packaging for other titles, is Region B locked. In Japan, this title is available as a Blu-ray 3D release, though it does not contain any English options. There are no rumors as of current about a domestic 3D release for the film on Blu-ray. Fans of the second film (why?!) should note that the cut included does not appear to be the "revenge" edition.
The video for the director's cut of 'Battle Royale' on disc one comes by way of a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1.78:1. It's...it's got its troubles, that much is clear.
'Battle Royale' has never been a shining example of a great looking film. There are dark shots that lose tons of detail, and swallow colors alarmingly. Crush pops up from time to time, and colors are regularly extremely muted. A few soft shots sprinkle in among the rest to really drag down a few scenes. Contrast can randomly go off the deep end, and random shots look like a poor colorization of a black and white film. The dirt in the opening act of the film clears up, though the minor shakes and vibrations of the camera do not. Noise also clears up, as its presence is mostly felt at the very beginning of the film, and then disappears until the climax before the requiems. This disc does not have painful edge enhancement, and only a few shots look to have any grain peculiarities. It's not a pretty disc, folks, and it's about on par with the video of the UK Arrow release. Fans of this film will recognize and forgive its visual shortcomings, having seen the film in so many low quality editions over the years. It's just the name of the game, sadly.
While the theatrical cut of the film on disc two opens the door for dramatic change in visual appearance, there really isn't any discernible difference between discs. Both cuts share the same technical specs, and visual appearance. Viewed in full, within an hour of each other, I could not spot a single difference. The same soft shots match up, as do the same moments of massive color desaturation. This is not a bad thing, as we're not penalized for liking one cut or another. Any changes between discs are extremely minor, and not catchable viewing back to back, and while screen capture "scientists" may try to nitpick a frame or two here and there, they'd be fighting a lost cause on this one. Neither disc has any type of video anomaly like macroblocking or mass artifacting.
'Battle Royale II: Requiem' fares much better than the original (in either cut) on Blu-ray, as its 1080p 1.78:1 framed AVC MPEG-4 encode regularly shows a ton of detail. Aside from the accurate, strong black levels, whites are much cleaner, contrast is much more consistent, definition is so much improved that you'll think you just watched a good DVD before popping in this disc. Dark shots don't lose detail like before, as colors come through, and there's never any desaturated, hideous shots. The landing sequence doesn't look as good as the film it rips off, but it does look amazing, as the constantly kicked up water really shows how much stronger this film looks. For the majority of this viewing, I was waffling between the score given, and the next half star up. The only reason I'm not going higher is the lack of depth of picture, the pop factor that is often missing. This is still a fine piece of work, even with the minor dirt and few larger scratches.
'Battle Royale: Extended Cut' video score: 2.5/5
'Battle Royale: Theatrical Cut' video score: 2.5/5
'Battle Royale II: Requiem' video score: 4/5
For the director's cut on disc one, there are two lossless audio options: native Japanese in a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track, or an English dub in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and the only subtitle option on either is basic English. The scoring in this review will reflect the Japanese track. I cannot recall being more impressed with the audio for this film than I am right now, not from the import DVD or the UK Arrow Blu-ray. This track brings 'Battle Royale' to new life! Yes, this track is quiet, to the point that you have to crank up your volume a few notches higher than your normal setting, and the high end is a bit weak. Sure, there are limitations, due to the age of the film, too. And, sadly, yes, there is some feedback in the final climax (though it may be intentional) in a few shots, and one bit of motion feels overly forced. Still, I can't praise this track enough.
Rear presence is an absolute shocker. You get score elements clearly separated in all channels. You also get believable rain trickle surrounding you, gunfire that localizes in one speaker and spreads to another. You get sound elements that start in one side of the room and move to the opposite without flaw in every movement example but one. Shell casings are clearly heard after a gun discharges, with a trickle or two from the rebound. Dialogue is always clear, and, unlike most films, localizes to channels flawlessly. Bass levels have plenty of heft to them, whether they're adding ambiance to a scene or pronouncing an explosion. You haven't heard 'Battle Royale' until you hear this track. It's a staggering upgrade from previous editions.
The theatrical disc for 'Battle Royale' has one significant difference compared to the extended version: the audio has been "downgraded." While still presented in lossless, the Dolby TrueHD track is now a 5.1 mix, rather than 7.1. While we obviously lose the information for the added two channels, what we don't lose is the effectiveness of the rears, the full room sound, the solid motion and localized effects. After viewing the second disc in full, I see no reason to discount this disc any from the score I gave the 7.1 track. It's still pretty darned awesome sounding.
The audio for 'Battle Royale II: Requiem' is also a winner. Presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (only in Japanese; no dubs are available), it starts out weak, where rooms and buses full of students didn't find their noises working to the rear channels like they should, with a few hollow moments making me question the dynamics. However, once the film got out of the compound and onto the island, there is no turning back. This sequel has non-stop gunfire and explosions from shelling and missiles, and you had better believe the majority of the gunfire comes from the rear channels. Movement is natural, including some very neat left to right zips, while localization effects are used constantly. High ends are also much improved. The scream of the collars before they go off can get pretty damn intense! While scoring the same as the other films, due to the pretty sluggish first act, this track really is the most impressive of the bunch!
'Battle Royale: Extended Cut' audio score: 4.5/5
'Battle Royale: Theatrical Cut' audio score: 4.5/5
'Battle Royale II: Requiem' audio score:4.5 /5
Every single extra for this set is included in the fourth disc, the DVD, which is identical to the extras disc found in the DVD set. Even funnier, every extra pertains to the original film, not the sequel. Take that, mediocrity!