Battle Royale (2000)
By: Fin H. on June 29, 2013 | Comments
Eastern Eye | Region B | 1.78:1, 1080p | Japanese Dolby TrueHD 7.1 | 122 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Takeshi Kitano, Takeshi Kitano, Ko Shibasaki
Screenplay: Kenta Fukasaku
Country: Japan
External Links
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With the current pop cultural climate being what it is, it seems timely to revisit Battle Royale as it emerges on Blu-ray, lest an entire generation grow up under the impression that the concept of schoolkids being pitted against one another in a pitched battle to the death was devised solely by a certain author who specialises in novels for "young adults". We'll leave that fanbase to their discussions of boys and stickers and bubblegum and suchlike, though, and cast an eye once more over Kinji Fukasaku's stark, bloody melodrama. Also based on a book (the aggressively compelling pulp novel of the same name by Koushun Takami), Battle Royale kicked up a great deal of controversy at the time of its release for its graphic depictions of bludgeoning, cleaving and impalement going on amongst people who really should be studying for their HSC instead.

In the dystopian, totalitarian Japan of the future, the "Battle Royale" act has been passed, which means that one randomly selected class of ninth-graders per year gets shipped off to a remote island to fight to the death until only one remains. They are compelled to do so by those beeping explosive collar doodads which are now a staple of the genre but which were still a relatively novel plot device at the time. Overseeing proceedings from a distance is their former teacher, played with a mixture of weary resignation and simmering hostility by Takeshi Kitano (director of Boiling Point and Violent Cop). Although a pall of black humour is draped over the entire affair (witness the chirpy chick who hosts the instructional video as though it were a "How to care for your Tamagotchi" tutorial) Fukasaku goes straight for the gut drama-wise and immerses the viewer completely in the life-or-death struggle which unfolds. Underscoring the serious tone of the bloodbath which ensues once the kids are left to their own devices is some seriously bombastic classical music, which punctuates the action at choice moments. Some may see it as overkill, but it certainly fits the larger-than-life "holy fuck this can't be happening" vibe of the situation. Besides, in Takami's novel the main protagonist, Nanahara, expresses his rebelliousness against the oppressive future establishment by listening to banned, curiously tame and somewhat anachronistic rock music, so the film's butchery could have been set to the strains of Springsteen's Born To Run and Cochran's Summertime Blues. Actually, the latter might have been quite interesting…

Of course, there are a plethora of variables at work to keep things interesting; each student is supplied with a randomly selected "weapon" which could take the form of anything from a hot death spitting, lethally advantageous MAC 10 to a distinctly underwhelming saucepan lid. There are also some jokers in the pack as two "transfer students" are thrown into the mix. These are the tough, grizzled but surprisingly benevolent veteran of a previous Battle Royale, Kawada (Taro Yamamoto: actually a bit too grizzled he looks about 25) and the obligatory lunatic who signed on for shits n' giggles, Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando). Kiriyama gets downgraded from being perhaps the most intriguing character in the book, an inscrutable sociopath genius who views the whole event as a challenging diversion, to being a wild-haired, leering nutbar who may as well be wearing a T-shirt that says "If you see me coming - RUN!" on it.

Another wild card is the femme fatale Mitsuko, played by the strikingly beautiful Ko Shibasaki. Mitsuko's tragic backstory of child prostitution and sexual abuse from the book was previously jettisoned for the sake of narrative streamlining but in this edition merits one distinctly odd flashback scene. She fills the role of the manipulative, amoral seductress with a flair for the thespian who employs a razor-sharp sickle and the waterworks to equally lethal effect. Interestingly, Tarantino originally intended to use Shibasaki in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 as Yuki Yubari, the sister of flail-wielding cutie-pie Go Go Yubari (played by Chiaki Kuriyama, who appears here as the spirited school track star, Chigusa). Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts and the fact that Kill Bill: Vol. 2 already had a running time of four months put an end to this subplot, which would have seen Yuki face off against the Bride herself.

The hero, Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara – Death Note) and his angelic love interest Noriko (Aki Maeda) come off as pretty bland in such colourfully maladjusted company, but their role is to anchor the film in some sort of sanity and provide a moral compass in the midst of such unhinged, anything-goes carnage: this they accomplish (mainly through looking alternately anguished and incredulous). The direct and shameless sentimentality of the central story proves to be crudely effective. However, whilst we sympathise with the plight of the guileless, good-hearted duo, Fukasaku never allows it to bog the film down and constantly switches the focus to the struggles of the various other members of Class B dotted about the island. The expanded Director's Cut version of the film presented here is liberally peppered with previously excised scenes, most of which concern themselves with events occurring prior to the fateful field trip. I am glad to report that all of them sit quite happily in the cut and that all of them serve some purpose in fleshing out a character or clarifying motivation, though some might find the recurring basketball game flashbacks to be a bit mawkish and twee.
The Disc
Madman's double disc set comprises a blu-ray and a copy of the previous Eastern Eye DVD, with the abundance of special features to be found on the latter.

Picture is Widescreen 16:9 1080p High Definition and is, unsurprisingly, a marked improvement on any other version of the film. Video buffs may feel that it is nothing to write home about, but this is not due to any shortcomings with the transfer: rather, the film is shot in a variety of murky locations, frequently in low light conditions. The film stock used may also play a hand. Nevertheless, the night scenes benefit from a bit more clarity, and close-ups of faces and suchlike frequently look excellent. If you feel that the blu-ray picture isn't blowing your skirt up, just stick on the accompanying DVD to see the difference.

Sound is in Dolby English 5.1 or Japanese 7.1 on the blu-ray and Dolby Japanese 5.1 on the DVD, and is definitely one of the stronger selling points of the transfer; the blu-ray audio sounds great, with the classical soundtrack really pumping, the bass delivering real body blows in the action sequences and good use of surround sound. The English dubbed dialogue varies wildly from, and is inferior to, the subtitled dialogue, but that's what you get for being too lazy to read. Interestingly, the English subtitled dialogue presented on this disc is considerably clearer and reads better than the translations I've seen in some other incarnations of the film.

Besides the usual trailers and TV spots we have a Making of Battle Royale in which we get to spend a bit of time with the kids of Class B in conversational interview snippets and behind the scenes footage. Their youthful exuberance and sense of fun is infectious and it is great to see the late, lamented Kinji Fukasaku interacting with his young cast; besides seeing the impish, snowy-haired veteran giving animated and forceful direction, we get to see him relating a sobering and pertinent anecdote to the wide-eyed kids about his own teenage experience of being fired upon by US forces near the end of WWII and being surrounded by death. It's also rather cool to see Takeshi Kitano in the process of creating the creepily juvenile and morbid work of art which his character unveils in the film. There is also a decent Battle Royale Documentary which features a few worthwhile observations by cast and crew but spends too much of its time on glossy and pointless visuals. A Special Effects Comparison is devoted almost exclusively to making CGI blood fly out of holes in hapless Asian adolescents (squibs were only used on two actors in the whole film). Instructional Video: Birthday Message sees the chirpy chick from the instructional video host a 70th birthday message to Kinji Fukasaku, while the cast and crew present their film on stage before a gala screening in Tokyo International Film Festival 2000. Also on the disc you'll find Audition and Rehearsal Footage and Basketball Scene Rehearsals along with two more no frills featurettes: Behind the Scenes and Filming on Set.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The thirteen years which have elapsed since Battle Royale was first unleashed have perhaps slightly diminished its capacity to shock, but it remains a potent artistic statement and a relentlessly kinetic, blood-drenched tour de force. Whether or not it's worth the blu-ray upgrade is entirely down to the individual, but the director's cut adds new texture and shade to the story and it's never looked or sounded better. There should be room in every collection for this one (there's something quite indelible about the image of squeaking, sailor-suited Japanese schoolgirls gruesomely mowing one another down with automatic weapons).
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