Battle Royale: The Complete Collection (Blu-ray)
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, Kenta Fukasaku
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
When Battle Royale came out in 2000, it seemed like something out of a dystopian nightmare: A topsy-turvy world somewhat unrecognizable as our own, but still familiar. Flash forward twelve years and we’ve got something that, while still outré, suddenly seems like a perverse possibility in these ever turbulent political times. A sinking economy, rampant unemployment and the collapse of the education system –each rife topics of discussion wherever your news source may be. It’s also the springboard for the titular battle in which 40+ classmates find themselves forced into a vicious game of survival in which there can only be one winner.
Seems like everyone knows the story by now: a 9th grade class is selected to participate in Japan’s “Battle Royale” program. That is to say, they’re shackled with exploding shock collars and forced to fight one another over the course of three days. This vicious and darkly humorous menagerie walks an uncomfortable line, but director Kinji Fukasaku balances it well, providing an almost Paul Verhoeven-ish touch to the material. Battle Royale works as a straight-up survival flick, but it’s really the scathing indictment of a youth-dominated culture (and the ensuing clash between the young and old) that really makes this one worth contemplating long after it’s finished.
Since this Battle Royale collection contains two separate version of the original film across two discs, it’s important to distinguish between them (and yes, I watched both for the purposes of this review). The “special edition” runs about eight minutes longer than the theatrical and contains a different opening, offers some noticeably CGI gore and one spectacularly creepy flashback involving a pedophile that helps frame the motivations of one of the “contestants”. There’s also the inclusion of “requiems” at the end that serve as “what if” scenarios suggesting happier lives for these contestants had they not been chosen for BR.
The “theatrical cut” flows a bit better (especially the ending), although both versions represent a respectable viewing choice with regards to Battle Royale. For newcomers to this movie, I’d recommend starting with the theatrical version and then re-watching the “special edition” to see which way the narrative works best for you. You’re still getting a socially conscious satire no matter your choice, and the somewhat interrupted flow of the newer cut may be more forgivable to someone after they’ve already embraced the film.
Battle Royale is, from the outset, a gripping, audacious and enjoyable experience that combines harsh violence, over-the-top action and scathing satire into one delightful concoction. It’s never quite as serious as the premise sounds, although the past decade has only solidified it as a story that was well ahead of its time.
It’s because of Battle Royale’s greatness that the colossal failure of Battle Royale II: Requiem is incredibly hard to take. Especially because, for the first 30-40 minutes, Requiem seems like it’s going to be an incredibly worthy (and biting) sequel to one of the best genre films of the 2000s. After all, it takes the BR premise and changes it around so that the government is now collecting youth and forcing them into war against a terrorist cell called ‘Wild Seven’. The kids aren’t trained warriors, so they’ll obviously be decimated immediately, but this is all just part of the government’s nefarious plan to invalidate the terrorists (themselves a pro-youth-oriented group) by making them slaughter their own kind.
Forget that the terrorists in BR II are pretty silly because they’re practically adults themselves (the script has them refer to their enemies as “adults” numerous times), everything about the sequel winds up feeling bloated and, more importantly, confused. Crafted in the wake of 9/11, there’s a strong anti-American sentiment running throughout the film which, admittedly, is a bit startling. But ultimately, it fails because BR II doesn’t seem to know exactly what it’s trying to say. That America is an evil empire, I guess? That’s fine, but there’s so much heavy-handed pretension packed into scenes concerning Afghani children that it all comes off as a bit baffling. Couple that with bland, uninteresting characters, endless machine gun fights and a convoluted ending and you’ve got a total mess of a movie that is incredibly difficult to sift through. That it runs on for an interminable 133 minutes just makes it all the worse.
For those asking, Battle Royale II isn’t the special edition version, which bears the moniker Revenge as opposed to Requiem. I hear it’s something of a better movie, but it’s hard to imagine pulling anything salvageable out of that slop.
Battle Royale hits Blu-ray in a 1080p transfer that does plenty right. While the image may not be razor sharp, there’s lots of detail on display here. Colors are nicely represented, even if BR has a slightly drab palette by design. Textures aren’t mind-blowing, but it gets the job done. Both discs (theatrical and special) seem to offer identical transfers, and Anchor Bay has done right with the film’s North American debut. This is the best I’ve actually seen Battle Royale look, and I was quite pleased with the image quality overall.
And the same can be said for Battle Royale II. From a technical standpoint, this movie looks even better than its predecessor, with all of the grit and grime lending extra atmosphere to the proceedings. Again, these films are deliberately soft, but there’s plenty of detail to savor here. Colors are a bit stronger-looking in BR II, and textures open up all kinds of wonderful details while watching.
But where these movies really shine are in the audio presentations. Battle Royale offers a Dolby True HD 7.1 track that is, simply put, freaking loud. Ambient noise is aggressive, music is blaring and dialogue is perfectly clear. This is bona fide demo material and an exceptional track. Battle Royale II may ‘only’ offer a Dolby True HD 5.1 track, but it’s no less aggressive. It’s a much more action-intensive film, with an almost endless string of gunfire and explosions so, as such, it’s fair to say you’ll be giving your home theater a real workout. I should note that I’m referring to the original Japanese audio tracks. The original film does offer a dub, but I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to these things.
Anchor Bay brings the Battle Royale collection to Blu-ray with a solid, if unspectacular, collection of extras. The most notable feature being the 50 minute making-of documentary covering all aspects of the original film. There’s a 12 minute press conference with director Kenji Fukasaku and cast prior to the film’s release, an 11-minute look behind-the-scenes covers some generic set footage, the filming of the basketball game for the movie’s “special edition” re-release, and an interview with the cast/crew. There’s also a little featurette that looks at the late director’s 70th birthday, some audition footage, a look at the FX work and a quick piece on the film’s screening at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Finally, a trailer and two TV spots (the special edition spot, and a Quentin Tarantino TV ad). Battle Royale II receives zero extras.
These extras are worth a watch, for sure, but they’re hardly the kind of supplements that will keep you coming back for more. As an all-encompassing look at one of the most infamous genre films of all time, it’s certainly a collection of extras worth diving into, even if nothing here truly resonates in the long run.
It’s a shame that Anchor Bay couldn’t have included the alternate cut of BR II here all in the name of calling this THE definitive BR collection, but this box set is still plenty satisfying for all of those who’ve been waiting to snag this sucker in HD. More importantly, Battle Royale has finally been granted an official North American release, meaning many, many more genre fans are about to discover this masterpiece. For those of you who only want to own the original movie, Anchor Bay has made it available in an extra-less single disc release (“special edition” only). This box set is the only way to go if you’re a BR fanatic. Even if the second movie is a festering pile of garbage, there are plenty of other reasons to own this sucker. Recommended.
5 out of 5
1 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5