BR: Battle Royale / Batoru rowaiaru (2000)
Label: Anchor Bay/ Region: A / Released: March 20, 2012
Genre: Action / Satire
Synopsis: In a dystopian Japan, rebellious teens are kept in line through a murderous lottery system where kids are snatched from schools and sent to an island for a deadly version of the most dangerous game in which there can only be one winner!
Special Features: Disc 4 [DVD] contains Making of Battle Royale (50:21) / Battle Royale Press Conference (12:02) / Instructional Video: Birthday Version (3:04) / Audition & Rehearsal Footage (7:12) / Special Effects Comparison Featurette (4:17) / Tokyo International Film Festival 2000 (4:27) / Battle Royale Documentary (12:09) / Basketball Scene Rehearsals (8:40) / Behind-the-scenes featurette (10:09) / Filming On-Set (11:01) / Original Theatrical Trailer / Special Edition TV Spot / TV Spot: Tarantino Version
Years ago it was rumored Anchor Bay was interested in releasing Kinji Fukasaku’s epic Battle Royale in North America, but production company Toei refused to knock down their price – a blunder that virtually delayed the film’s legit release on home video across the pond for 12 years.
Now, there’s a specific arrogance in believing that if you have something that’s unique, at some point your price will be met, but aside from rare print screenings – such as two sold out occasions at the Ontario Cinematheque almost 10 years ago – North Americans generally had to settle for a U.K. or South Korean DVD release, or bootlegs when neither was available. Moreover, while the Korean DVD offered the best picture & sound, the U.K. edition contained vastly superior subtitles, but lacked the extras which were mostly in Japanese with Korean subtitles.
To add further confusion, there are 2 versions of the film: the original 114 min. Theatrical Cut, and the 122 min. Special Version (aka The Director’s Cut, as rebranded for Anchor Bay’s Complete Collection), which contains additional footage shot 5 months after the film’s first theatrical run, and expands some of the character backstories.
The film itself is the same in either version: a grand, bloody adaptation of Koshun Takami’s fat novel about a fascist government that instituted the B.R. Millenium Act as a means to control a rebellious youth population and keep society in a state of fear – never sure when their children would be snatched up for a 3-day version of king of the castle where only one teenage snot is left standing.
Fukasaku’s film is a perfect translation of Koshun’s novel, capturing the vicious carnage in the numerous combat sequences and regular bodycount alerts, the satirical jabs at government control mechanisms, and the bathos that bleeds form the screen whenever teens recall best friends, puppy love romances, and rival cliques.
Battle Royale is also a brave work for casting actors close to their characters’ ages, and yet, amid all the outrageous onscreen elements, the characters remain compelling because viewers can easily identify with the issues of high school life and personal tragedies.
Fukasaku’s film – his final after a long career as one of Japan’s key New Wave directors from the sixties – is a masterwork of shifting tones, and deserves to be ranked as one of the best film ever made, if not great satire. Misamichi Amano’s rich score treats every scene as grave opera, while Hirohide Abe’s editing is a textbook example of dynamic action cutting that’s never disorienting, nor discontinuous, nor pretentious.
Battle Royale offers a disturbing, outrageous, intriguing concept – school kids forced to kill each other by a wretched adult regime – but never demeans its characters. The film’s ability to affect audiences on many levels (and make a great deal of money in Japan) is why the filmmakers were compelled to plot a sequel [M], which screenwriter Kenta Fukasaku took over as writer and director after his father’s death in 2003.
The impact of Koshun’s novel spawned two films as well as a graphic serial novel which added further glaring imagery, and it’s pretty fair to assume the film heavily influenced the plotting of The Hunger Games [M], Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel, which similarly focused on a similar fascist government that sends kids to a televised combat game, and where only one winner can be anointed. (Collins toned down the gore and refocused the satire to make her own equally compelling riff for a specific young adult audience, whereas Battle Royale is clearly aimed at a more mature, if not bloodthirsty, film fans.)
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray gathers together the Theatrical version and Director’s Cut (aka Special Version) on separate DVDs, each boasting crisp transfers and robust surround sound mixes. The additional footage is somewhat affecting and generally successful in opening up a few character backgrounds, but for reaons known only to the director, two scenes are repeated at the end in a protracted epilogue (dubbed ‘requiem’), with the last segment allowing us to hear the dialogue blocked during its first fragmented appearance. They’re virtually identical in length & content to their prior appearances, and prolong the film’s finale needlessly. (More precises details on the differences in footage and special effects are here.)
Disc 3 in the set contains the massively disappointing sequel, but it’s the Theatrical version, making the set ‘incomplete’ since the longer director’s cut (rebranded Battle Royale II: Revenge Special Edition) remains exclusive to single editions released in Asia. (Teasingly, a prior Korean set included a deleted scene – “Farewell to the Piano” – which features some flashback material from the first film, expanding scenes between teacher Kitano and his estranged daughter during her surreal solo piano performance in the terrorists’ ramshackle lair.)
The chief problem facing anyone wanting to release either BR film is the wealth of extras that have appeared on Japanese, Korean, and British DVDs, and AB’s set offers a smattering of material collected from all, albeit in lesser amounts. That isn’t to say the extras on Disc 4 are lacking, but there will never be a fully defibitive edition since some of the extras were unique to specifc labels.
Unique to the Korean edition are some press conferences [see prior review] confucted in Japanese and subtitled in Korean, and there are some interviews (notably one with actor Takeshi Kitano) that remain exclusive to the prior Tartan DVD and current Arrow Video Blu-ray in the U.K. The latter Blu-ray was also released in a limited version with excerpts from the novel, comic book, printed interview with director Kinji Fukasaku, and reproduction of original promotional materials.
AB’s set offers the most shared extras: rehearsal footage, a birthday ceremony kick-started with a spoof of the instructional video for the newly snatched kids, and some premiere and press Tokyo conference footage. The 2 documentaries provide plenty of behind-the-scenes footage with the stern director, and collectors should note the second, “Battle Royale Documentary,” is identical to the “Prologue Battle Royale” WOWOW TV Special from the Korean DVD. (Also ported over is the disposable TV ad that features two abrupt clips of Quentin Tarantino voicing his approval of the film.)
The biggest omission: composer Amano conducting cues during the recording session in Warsaw, Poland. In prior U.K. and Korean editions, the material was edited into two slightly different versions running less than 10 mins., and it’s a pity the footage was never offered in complete form, like a mini-concert featuring complete takes of each operatic cue. Given it took more than a decade for both BR films to reach North America, the possibility of a concert video on DVD or Blu-ray is vitually nil.
Perhaps the strangest postscript to Takami’s novel is the release of a re-rendered 3D edition of BR I’s Director’s Cut, released in the fall of 2010. That version was reportedly slated for a 2011 U.S. release but was cancelled – perhaps due to a concern it may not have fared well in competition with The Hunger Games, pressure to restrict the franchise’s release on home video, or a reported rash of school shootings which would’ve made the U.S. distributor appear as insensitive.
Koshun’s concept may also emerge as a TV series on the American CW network, but it’ll undoubtedly be toned down to suit the limits of commercial U.S. TV.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review