The content of the film and its release coming just a year after the events in Columbine in 1999 insured that American distributors steered clear and it received no official release there. UK distributor Tartan picked up the film though and their now out of print DVD (they folded in 2008) did great business in exports to the US. Following the folding of Tartan films, Arrow Video picked up the rights and this release boasts not only a new Blu-ray version but also a host of new features.
The Japan of Battle Royale features a new political act, entitled the BR Act, which seeks to address the problems of serious teenage rebellion with a ‘game’ that involves taking a class of school children to a remote island and forcing them to kill each other until only one is left standing. The film focuses on Kitano’s (Takeshi Kitano) class who, believing they are on a class trip, are drugged and taken to the island. Following an induction led by Kitano and featuring an amusing instructional video the class set off individually, each with a pack containing basic supplies and a random weapon. Quickly the children cling to their friendship groups and any relationships, petty rivalries and character traits are magnified by the exceptional circumstances.
Unlike dystopian or post-apocalyptic films featuring a world of the future, Battle Royale positions itself at the turn of the millennium, the time of the films release. Following the opening line ” At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed.” there follows real-life statistics about the problems that Japan faces with teenagers. These are statistics on such problems as truancy and violence and they position the film clearly as present day and specifically within the context of present day Japan, tackling issues that are really taking occurring. The film represents a microcosm of present-day Japan and the fictional island in the film is Japan in miniature, not symbolic of the future of Japan but the present-day. Battle Royale also has as much to do with Japan’s past as it does with the present day. Fukasaku’s films have always been very much post-war films that investigate the social problems of a defeated nation and this is clearly still present in Battle Royale.
The deeply profound experiences that Fukasaku suffered during the war deeply informed the film (the students in the film are the same age as he was in 1945) and although he is now one himself, it seems he still does not trust adults. In interviews at the time of the film’s release he often made a very direct relationship between the situation in Japan in 2000 and post-war Japan. His experiences of post-war Japan and in particular the fall out from untrustworthy politicians and police deeply affected much of his work. When asked in an interview for Midnight Eye if with Battle Royale he was still asking basically the same question? “Where are these politics taking us?” He replied quite simply “Yes”.
One issue with Fukasaku’s approach though is that the politicians implementing the BR Act in Battle Royale are completely unseen, although they are somewhat represented by the most prominent adult figure, Kitano. Fukasaku’s film is ultimately a polemic with (for better or worse – I would argue the former) sledgehammer subtlety. This is also evidenced in the relationships between the schoolchildren and their character beats which are for the most part a little simplistic. The sequence in the lighthouse where the male lead, Nanahara (Tasuya Fujiwara), recuperates whilst a clique of the girls attempt a domestic idyll only for it to collapse is one deft example of Fukasaku’s simplification/economy in character and plot.
Dealing with a large number of characters and constrained by the conceit that they must be dispatched quickly this somewhat simplistic approach is not surprising and the film flows smoothly as a result. This mixture of a large number of characters and plot points each dealt with swiftly and with economy ensure the film is thoroughly enjoyable despite its darker political themes and violent content. This is perhaps largely due to Fukasaku’s attempt to make this film for ‘the kids’, the main reason why the R-15 hurt him so much, and he therefore paints with broad strokes.
Battle Royale is a tad flawed in places, some of the aforementioned economy leaves some aspects a little weak in substance, and it doesn’t seem quite as fresh and exciting ten years on but its political and social themes are still interesting and relevant. Although perhaps lacking in complexity at times the film is also still incredibly entertaining and the action set pieces are well realised through Fukasaku’s expert direction and the fast paced and often thrilling narrative easily hooks you in.
Arrow Video have really given fans of Battle Royale a treat with this exceptional release. The three disc box set features both the theatrical and ‘Director’s Cut’ of the film and both transfers feature excellent HD transfers which are clear and almost blemish free. The visual and audio quality are vast improvements over the Tartan release and the transfers alone make this worth the upgrade. Although I’m not personally a fan of the ‘Director’s Cut’ as I find the inserted back story sequences (shot after the film’s initial release) something of a distraction from the main story and a little clumsy, it is still an advantage to have the option to choose between both.
The box set also features a wealth of extras , some from the Tartan release and others new to this release. The making of on disc one and special edition making of on disc two are particular highlights but the various TV spots, promos and the birthday video are also great for any fan of the film or Fukasaku.
The contents of the Limited Edition Box-set in full:
Theatrical Cut; original theatrical trailer, the making of Battle Royale: The Experience of 42 High School Students, conducting Battle Royale with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra.
Special Edition (Director’s Cut); Special edition trailer, TV Spot: Tarantino version, shooting the Special Edition, Takeshi Kitano interview, the correct way to make Battle Royale (Birthday version), Tokyo international film festival presentation.
Special Features; Opening day at Maro No Uchi Toei movie theatre, the slaughter of 42 high school students, premier press conference, the correct way to fight in Battle Royale, Royale rehearsals, Masamichi Amano conducts Battle Royale, special effects comparison, behind the scenes featurette, filming on set, TV spots, promos and commercials, Kinji Fukasaku trailer reel
32 page comic
36 page booklet including:
‘A Battle Without An End’ by Tom Mes, Author of ‘The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film’, Printed interview with Director Kinji Fukasaku, ‘Today’s Lesson is…You Kill Each Other’ by Jay McRoy, author of ‘Japanese Horror Cinema’ (LE Exclusive), extract from Koushan Takami’s original novel (LE Exclusive), original promotional material including Director’s statement, cast and crew biogs (LE Exclusive).
16 page booklet including: Concept artwork and drawing for the limited edition set (LE Exclusive)
5 x7″ Postcards of stills from the film (LE Exclusive)
Fold-out reversible poster of original artwork