It’s the release that the people of North America have been waiting for for over a decade, but at last, Battle Royale finally comes to Blu-Ray in an official Region 1 release. Up until now, we’ve had to depend on whatever copies we could find of this great film, including bootlegs and all-region editions. I myself have only had a region 0 version that only plays on my computer for several years now, so you can count me as one of the millions who are extremely excited about this release. For fans of the film, the wait is finally over…
At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed.
At 15% unemployment, 10 million were out of work.
800,000 students boycotted the schools.
The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth,
eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act,
AKA the BR Act…
So reads the opening prologue to one of the most controversial movies of all time. Based upon the popular Japanese novel by Koushun Takami, Battle Royale tells the story of a middle school class comprised of 42 students who think they are going on their school trip, only to find themselves in a classroom surrounded by military personnel. Into the room strolls a former teacher of theirs, Kitano (Beat Takeshi), who explains to them what is going on. Their class has been chosen through a lottery to participate in the Battle Royale, an act passed by adults who are frightened of the boycotting youth.
“Today’s lesson is, you kill each other off till there’s only one left. Nothing’s against the rules,” he explains to the frightened kids. Everyone is given a bag with supplies (food, water, a map, and a weapon) and sent out onto an uninhabited island where they have three days to be the one survivor who gets to go home. All of the kids have also been fitted with a collar to force their participation in the game. If the three days run out before there is only one survivor, the collars will explode. There are also danger zones that, if they’re caught in one, will trigger the necklaces to explode as well. Once the kids are released, the madness begins.
On the one hand, Battle Royale is a great film because it is an amazing, pulse-pounding thrillride that grabs you from the start and doesn’t let go until the very end. However, it’s also a great film because it is a masterful exercise that explores the different ways in which kids might deal with the prospect of violence. In watching these difference reactions we begin to ask ourselves: what would we do in this situation?
The main couple we follow is Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda), who quickly discover that the weapon distribution was not exactly fair as they end up with a pot lid and a pair of binoculars, while others wind up with guns, tasers, swords, and other far more useful weapons. However, their reaction to the game is one of sheer survival. They don’t want to hurt anyone, but are willing to defend themselves.
The group also includes two transfer students, Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando). Kawada was forced to come back to the game after having survived a previous one. Since he is back, he is determined to find an answer to something that has perplexed him from his last visit. He and his girlfriend were the last two remaining in their match when suddenly his girlfriend shoots him. He shoots back, only to have her smile and tell him “Thank you.” He wishes to find the answer behind that smile and gratitude. Kiriyama, on the other hand, is there by choice, with only sadistic intentions in mind. As we quickly see, once he gets ahold of a machine gun, he has no problem with killing everyone in sight.
As the film proceeds, we witness all kinds of different reactions to the scenario. Some students immediately decide to fight back against their captors. Some of them want to call a truce and discuss the situation to see if they can come up with a non-violent solution, while others simply band together in hopes of survival. There are even those that completely refuse to participate, deciding to take their own lives instead.
As mentioned earlier, the film has us asking the twisted question of what we would do in this situation which also encompasses the question of whether or not you’d be able to kill your friends for your own survival. It shows a bit of hope for this fictional future Japan that most of the students are very reluctant to do any harm, though that doesn’t help the fact that Kiriyama is running around having fun killing everyone he can. Later on, some of the students even succumb to a bout of paranoia while attempting to find a way out of their predicament.
It’s true that the film is rather violent, but unlike most action films nowadays, Battle Royale actually has something to say about violence instead of simply using it as entertainment. Takami, screenwriter Kenta Fukasaku, and director Kinji Fukasaku use it as a means to discuss human nature and how far we are willing to go to survive.
The first two discs of this four-disc set include two different versions of the film. On the first disc is the special edition which includes about eight minutes of new scenes that were shot a few months after the film wrapped. The new scenes include a basketball game at the middle school as well as dreams had by Shuya and Noriko. I’ve always wondered why they even bothered with these scenes as they don’t add anything to the film at all. It seems as though they were just straining for a reason to re-release the film. The second disc contains the original theatrical cut.
Also included in this set is Battle Royale II: Requiem. Picking up a few years after the original, it tells the story of how another middle school class has been forced to participate in a new Battle Royale that has the singular goal of stopping Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), who has become a terrorist after having survived the game. This game is also supervised by a teacher (Riko Takeuchi) and focuses on such players as Takuma (Shugo Oshinari) and Shiori Kitano (Ai Maeda), daughter of the teacher from the first film.
This sequel to the original masterpiece is rarely talked about, but it’s not that hard to see why. It’s not nearly as good as its predecessor. This is mainly because the story becomes really nonsensical. The government wants to stop Shuya and his gang of terrorists, who were responsible for blowing up some buildings, and so they decide to send completely inexperienced kids in to try and stop him. Later on, we find out that they’ve had the means to blow up the uninhabited island all along, but for some reason, they decide to do things the hard way, first by sending the students, and then sending the military after the surviving students join the terrorists.
This film is also lacking the moral questions and commentary of the first film. This one really did seem like it was merely an excuse to include lots of explosions and gunshots. It also doesn’t help that there really isn’t anything interesting about the supposed main characters. I say “supposed” because there really aren’t any actual main characters. It focuses mostly on Takuma and Shiori, but they don’t really develop, nor do they get anything interesting to do.
There’s also the problem of the pacing. After a somewhat interesting first act that includes a bit of an homage to the Normandy sequence from Saving Private Ryan, we get a rather slow second act where practically nothing happens before the onset of the overly-long action sequence that is the third act. Overly-long could actually describe the whole film. At 134 minutes, the film is far too long and could have easily stood to have a good chunk of the second or third acts cut out.
Whereas I’ve seen the original film somewhere around a dozen times, this was only my second time watching the sequel with it being several years since I watched it the first time, and while the first one kept bringing me back, I merely remember negative feelings about the first time I watched the sequel which merely brought about a lack of interest in seeing it again. While it’s not a film I can recommend, at the very least it does act as an interesting glimpse as to where they tried to take a sequel to the successful original.
Turning to the technical aspects of the Blu-Rays, the two films are presented in 1.78:1, 1080p transfers that make the films look better than they ever have. Details that were a bit dull on the DVD now come through cleanly. The audio has also been vastly improved, making every sound clearer and sharper than ever before.
As for special features, here are all the goodies contained on Disc 4:
- The Making of Battle Royale
- Battle Royale Press Conference
- Instructional Video: Birthday Version
- Audition & Rehearsal Footage
- Special Effects Comparison Featurette
- Tokyo International Film Festival 2000
- Battle Royale Documentary
- Basketball Scene Rehearsals
- Behind-The-Scenes Featurette
- Filming On-Set
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Special Edition TV Spot
- TV Spot: Tarantino Version
It’s true that these are all the same special features from the old DVD, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating to watch. The ones to particularly pay attention to are the “Making of,” “Audition & Rehearsal Footage,” “Filming On-Set,” “Special Effects Comparison,” “Behind the Scenes,” and the documentary featurettes. All of these contain a great amount of behind the scenes footage regarding the making of the film and all the hard work that went into preparing for it as well as interviews with various cast and crew. All of the special features combined total over two hours and are sure to please any fan of the film.
There is something highly unusual about these special features however. All of them pertain to the first film while there is not a single featurette for the second film. I would have been very interested in hearing about what drew the Fukasakus back for the second film given that almost everything that made the first film great was lacking from its sequel. Unfortunately, this will have to remain a mystery.
In closing, this is really quite a beautifully fashioned set. The four discs come in a hardback book with sleeves for each disk. There is also a single disc version of the first film being offered, but sadly it does not come with any of the great special features, so, if you’re like me and you love to watch the various making of documentaries, you’ll be forced to go with the complete set. However, I hardly count that as a bad thing. With the original masterpiece and the excellent in depth special features, this spectacular set is definitely worth picking up.
(Please Note: For the overall movie score, I have averaged the scores I have given to the two films included in this set. The first film would be a solid 100%, whereas the second film would be about a 60%, giving an average of 80%.)
While the second film is not nearly as good as the first, this set is more than worth picking up for the great original film as well as the excellent special features.