• Battle Royale: The Complete Collection

    Released By: Anchor Bay
    Released On: 03/20/2012
    Director: Kinji Fukasaku, Kenta Fukasaku
    Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Riki Takeuchi, Sonny Chiba
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Film:

    I first saw Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale over ten years ago, courtesy of a rather dubious-looking bootleg. At the time, it was mentioned that the film would never see a North American release because of “that Columbine thing”. That might have been a rumour, but it certainly sounded like it could be true; who would market a film about a bunch of junior high students massacring each other in a variety of gruesome ways? To say that Battle Royale blew my mind would be an understatement; essentially my introduction to Asian cinema (outside of kung fu films, of course) my North American-conditioned mind could not fully grasp what was unfolding on the screen.

    Based on the book by Koushun Takami, the film tells the story of a not-so-distant future in which juvenile crime has overrun the nation, causing the government to lose the faith of the people. In an extreme measure of desperation, the Millenium Education Reform Act is passed, allowing for one junior high school class to be chosen per year to participate in Battle Royale. En route to what they think is an end-of-year field trip, the students of Class 3-B are gassed unconscious and wake up on a vacant island in a classroom setting, wearing silver collars. Surrounded by armed soldiers, they are surprised to see their former teacher Kitano, who retired from teaching after being stabbed by one of the students. An instructional video explains why they are there; they have been chosen to participate in Battle Royale, and will spend the next 3 days on the island, killing each other off. To prevent the students from protesting the game en masse, they are told that if there is more than one survivor at the end of the three days, their fancy new collars will explode. To make things more interesting, designated areas of the island will be blocked off at certain times, and remaining in those areas will also cause the necklaces to explode.

    Released from the classroom in intervals, each of the 42 students are handed duffle bags with weapons, which range from pot lids to machine guns. Much like Survivor, alliances and betrayals abound during the course of elimination, but unlike Survivor (though we can dream), much of the back-stabbing is literal and involves gallons of arterial spray. Though the film is somewhat chaotic during the onset with so many characters to keep track of, a pretty healthy body count in the first few hours narrows the focus down to a few worth focusing on, including two mysterious transfer students who seem to know their way around the game better than others. With the clock running out, the remaining students of Class 3-B have to choose between their friendships and their own need to survive.

    Battle Royale works extremely well because it functions on two levels; one is a rather blatant political statement against government control, something that Director Fukasaku experienced first-hand as a student protestor. But as Fukasaku intended, it’s also a straight-up action film with a compelling story, good characters, and a whole lot of stuff blowing up. With 60 films under his belt, the late director had an eye for what works, and aside from some mild pacing issues (especially in the longer “Director’s Cut”), he’s delivered a great movie. Credit also has to be given to the actors; Takeshi Kitano as, er, Kitano owns every scene he’s in, and the relationship between Shuya and Noriko wouldn’t have been nearly as convincing were it not for the quality acting provided by Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda. Worth mentioning, also, is the extremely effective and powerful score by Masamichi Amano. Mixed with bits of Verdi, the soundtrack of Battle Royale makes the film practically perfect in every way. Which leads us to…

    Battle Royale 2: Requiem. What a horrendous piece of nonsense. If you haven’t seen the first film, read no further, as it gives away the ending. That being said….what a horrendous piece of nonsense. Taking place roughly three years after the first film, Battle Royale 2 finds survivor Shuya as the leader of Wild Seven, a terrorist organization who “refuse to forgive adults” for the injustices that they’ve imposed upon the youth of Japan. Having somehow honed his skills in different countries over the last few years, this teenaged vagabond has jumped to the top of the government’s most wanted list for taking down a number of buildings in a big city. Class 9-B from Shikanotoride Middle School are the lucky ones chosen to participate in Battle Royale, with a couple of change-ups; this time, they’ll be playing in pairs (and if your partner buys it, so do you), and the sole task of this game is to kill Shuya Nanahara. Much like the first film, there is mass confusion and doubt at the beginning, but the students get the point fairly quickly after a couple of them are killed. Kitano is replaced by Riki Takeuchi, who has his own reasons for being involved.

    When I first got a hold of Battle Royale 2, I had high hopes, despite the severe rake-job that it got from fans of the first film. And my memory tells me that I didn’t find it nearly as bad as others had said. Unfortunately, a repeat viewing did not confirm those carefree days of wonder. Battle Royale 2 has so much wrong with it, it’s hard to know where to start. It must be said that while the idea for the second film started with Kinji Fukasaku, he sadly passed while making the film, which was then taken over by his son. Bad idea. While the intent may have been to make another controversial film, paralleling the terrorist attacks in the second film to 9-11 but making the terrorists the good guys, Fukasaku Jr. has essentially delivered 140 minutes of garbage. Directly ripping off Saving Private Ryan with the camera movements and effects during the initial beach attack, Battle Royale 2 sets itself up for some heavy criticism, and continues to deliver. Pointless action scenes….painfully long tearful lamenting speeches from Shuya, every damn time he’s on screen, dripping with ridiculously over-the-top politics (war is bad, grown-ups are evil, etc.)… plot holes that are so friggin’ huge, I almost want to start dropping profanity all over the page to describe them…. I cannot find anything to like about Battle Royale 2. Even Sonny Chiba, who could’ve probably saved the film with a larger role, is given such minimal screen time, it’s a wonder that he’s there in the first place. By the time the conclusion to the film rolls around, be surprised if your jaw isn’t hanging open with amazement at the stupidity of the entire premise. There is apparently a longer cut of the film containing an extra twenty minutes, but I doubt very much that those extra bits of information could help what a mess this movie is.

    Battle Royale is a work of art, a fantastic film by a powerhouse director; Battle Royale 2 should be the coaster that you set your beer on while you watch Battle Royale a second time.


    Note: Both cuts of the original Battle Royale film are included on separate discs; the Theatrical and the (extended) Director’s Cut, which contains about 8 minutes of additional footage. A good chunk of this footage consists of a basketball game at the school, which serves to show the students in happier times, rallying together instead of killing each other off. It also shows that there are some who didn’t fit in as well as others, and may explain why some of the “contestants” were a little more eager to win the game than others. There are also some flashbacks added to the film that explain a little bit more behind character motivations. Another large chunk consists of the three separate “Requiems” added to the end of the film, which show more of the basketball game, a dream-like interaction between Shuya and Nobu, and a continutation of Noriko’s walk with Kitano. There is also an extra scene involving a group of hackers that is pretty entertaining, but the rest of the differences are minor.

    Anchor Bay brings the first Battle Royale to Blu-ray (yay!) in a 1.78:1 transfer that looks….good. Well, it looks more than good. It’s certainly a huge step up from the previous imported DVD versions. But it still lacks a bit in the picture department. For the most part, the transfer is solid with good black levels and a lot more detail than most will be used to seeing from this film. There are, however, a number of sequences that look more “washed out” for lack of a better term; simply, lacking in the clarity that one would expect from a hi-def transfer. The movie still looks good and is worth the purchase, but don’t expect it to pop off of the screen like the latest shot-in-HD feature. On the plus side, the transfer hasn’t suffered from an overuse of DNR, and it’s safe to say that this is probably the best we’re going to see the film presented. The real star of the AV show, though, has to be the 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. It has its naysayers, but I found it to be absolutely amazing. The score during the opening sequence is a good indicator of how phenomenal it sounds; rich in dynamics, with good use of the surrounds and subwoofer. Dialogue remains consistent all the way through with no issues, and the sound effects are balanced perfectly. A Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track is also included in English, and it also sounds decent, but the 7.1 is definitely the way to go.

    Battle Royale 2 also looks very good…better than the first film, actually. The 1.85:1 transfer features solid black levels with great detail and a good range of colour, with no artifacting whatsoever; and the grain present during some of the darker sequences is an example of what true film grain should look like. A Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is also well done, with the over-the-top dialogue remaining clear throughout, balanced well with the sound effects and the score that doesn’t touch the first film.

    Included on the fourth disc in the set (Standard DVD) are the extra features, many of them ported over from previous foreign editions. First up is the Making of Battle Royale, which runs just over 50 minutes. Featuring interviews from the actors and Kinji Fukasaku, this making of also incorporates some on-set and behind-the-scenes footage, documenting the making of the film.

    Next up is a Press Conference, in which the cast, director, and author of the book discuss the book and the film. The press conference footage runs about 12 minutes.

    Instructional Video: Birthday Version is a 3-minute piece which plays on the instructional video in the film to wish Fukasaku a happy 70th birthday.

    Audition and Rehearsal Footage runs just over 7 minutes, and is just what it says, with the most interesting component being the physical testing.

    Special Effects Comparison Featurette consists of about 4 minutes of different effects in the film, such as the exploding necklace, broken down into individual shots and composites.

    Next up is a short bit from the Tokyo International Film Festival 2000, showcasing the introduction of the cast and director before a sold out advance screening.

    The Battle Royale Documentary is a 12-minute fluff piece that has some characters discussing the film, as well as a narrator…with all of the pretty graphics and music, it’s more of an EPK than anything, and made somewhat redundant by the Making Of featurette.

    Basketball Scene Rehearsals is basically 9 minutes of Fukasaku directing the basketball sequence 4 months after the original shooting of the film.

    The Behind the Scenes Featurette is 10 minutes of more on-set footage and repeated takes; basically, it and Filming on Set (11 minutes) could’ve easily been incorporated into the Making Of Featurette.

    Rounding out the extras are a Theatrical Trailer, a Special Edition TV Spot, and a TV Spot with Quentin Tarantino talking about how much he loves the film.

    The Final Word:

    A nice return to form for Anchor Bay, Battle Royale: The Complete Collection is probably about as thorough and as good-looking a release as we’re likely to see. Fans of the film should be pleased with this release, and newcomers to the film can buy into the entire package for a relatively low cost.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Nolando's Avatar
      Nolando -
      I've never watched the second film and, now that it's included, I still don't intend to do so - HA!
    1. Jack J's Avatar
      Jack J -
      I've had the second film lying around on an ex-rental dvd for many months and I just can't get started on it. Good write-up, Mark.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Thanks, Jack. And Nolando, good call. Haha. It was just so much worse than i remembered....