Battle Royale (2000)
By: Julian on May 15, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Shock (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.78:1 (16x9 Enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0 English Subtitles. 108 minutes
The Movie
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, Beat Takeshi
Screenplay: Kenta Fukasaku
Music: Masamichi Amano
Country: Japan
AKA: Batoru Rowaiaru
In the 1980s, after the BBFC began to classify films, a number were snared in the 'video nasty' net; movies which were immediately banned and developed life-long notoriety. Fast forward twenty odd years to the US Columbine school massacre, where something of an anti-violence-in-film furore kicked in once again. Along with Natural Born Killers and other nihilistic tract, Battle Royale had the finger of conservative blame pointed at it – an action that was unsurprising considering its plot of kid-on-kid massacring.

Set in futuristic Japan (though technologically its advancement isn't noticeable), Battle Royale begins with an unnerving shot of a girl holding a teddy bear, covered in blood, smiling freakishly while a media circus surrounds her. We go back in time a few days to when the event that caused this uproar occurred: due to a Depression-era unemployment rate, school violence and outright teen rebelliousness, the adults have come up with the 'Battle Royale' initiative. A class of teenagers is chosen at random, put on a deserted island, given weapons and told to kill each other. There are no rules except two – they cannot escape the island and only one individual can survive. The consequences: an explosive necklace chained to the offender's neck will detonate (or, in the latter case, everyone's necklace detonates). The students' grade three teacher Kitano (Beat Takeshi, in one of his best serious roles) is the teacher of the group, and all hopes of mercy are shattered when Kitano kills two of his past-graduates brutally. So the kids are sent off onto the mountainous, heavily forested island to fend for themselves – some form alliances, others go on their own, but they all vaguely acknowledge that only one of them can survive.

Something of a mould between The Lord of the Flies and Hard Target (though eclipsing these films in regards to quality), Battle Royale is a 100% cult classic. There's no doubt that the film is very heavy going stuff: the subject of violence committed on kids by kids is a touchy one and has always been reviled, particularly in America. With the group of students in the film, it's easy to see why. That said, Battle Royale isn't a picture to be looked down upon – it is intelligent, exceptionally well directed and acted and very disturbing, not least because of its masterful execution.

Battle Royale's director Kinji Fukasaku is considered one of Japanese crime genre luminaries, lensing yakuza films such as The Yakuza Papers and its six sequels. He followed Battle Royale with a sequel in 2003, which was well received, before tragically succumbing to prostate cancer that year, aged 72.
Not too good, I'm afraid. The transfer is fairly dull and there's a fair bit of grain in many of the scenes – in some cases, even as bad as a VHS print. A big negative, however, is that the English subtitles have been burnt in and, in some cases when the picture is bright, they are difficult to read. The film is presented in the 1:78:1 aspect ratio.
One audio track – the Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0. In most part, it is very good, with the dialogue crisp and clear.
Extra Features
One of the few releases that lives up to the Collector's Edition promise in its title. There's a 50 minute making-of documentary, which tracks pretty much every part of Battle Royale being committed to celluloid. There are also theatrical trailers, TV spots, press conference and film festival footage, filmographies of Kinji Kukasaku and Takeshi Kitano, TV spots, and four other making-of featurettes running between five and fifteen minutes each, along with other odd bits of miscellany including a send up of the films instructional video made for Kinji Fukasaku's 70th birthday, audition and rehearsal footage, a Director's statement, and a special effects comparison featurette. In a word, brilliant. To fault (and this really is nitpicking), the plethora of features could have been spread out over two discs.
The Verdict
One of the best social commentaries ever committed to film, Battle Royale is a sublime work by a genuine master of the craft. Battle Royale is one of the few films where its creators have the sheer balls to realistically show what could potentially happen in a dystopian world, a message many have touched upon but rarely succeeded in conveying. And we are really being treated with such a lovingly constructed release, witha slew of interesting and insightful special features. It's rare for an Asian cult film to receive a bells-and-whistles release like this one, and the R4 Battle Royale disc is one of the few occasions where Australians needn't rely on an import for a superior version. Highly recommended.
Movie Score
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