BATTLE ROYALE LIMITED EDITION Blu-ray Review

jackie-chan
Contributor; London
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BATTLE ROYALE LIMITED EDITION Blu-ray Review
Back in 2000 Battle Royale caused a bit of a stir with its uncompromising take on a Lord of the Flies scenario taking place in a near future Japan. I saw it at the cinema in 2001 and was both unprepared and completely blown away. Blackly comic and surprisingly affecting, it melded Japanese pop sensibilities, US high school bickering and operatic violence to alarming effect. Appearing at a time when extreme Asian cinema was just emerging in the UK, it was an instant cult hit.

Revisiting Kinji Fukasaku's film now, it inevitably doesn't feel quite as fresh as it once did, and at worst seems rather dated. Of course it's still a hugely distinctive movie, but its flaws are a little clearer and its shock factor considerably lower.

Unable to contend with growing unrest amongst the nation's youth, the Japanese government passes the Battle Royale act; each year a class of school children is selected to take part (against their will) in a contrived game that has them fight it out to the death on a secluded island. The only chance of escape is to kill every other classmate before the allotted time is up. This year, it's the turn of Kitano's (Takeshi Kitano) class to discover at what cost they've been disrespecting their teachers. Drugged and transported to the battle ground they awaken wearing explosive necklaces and surrounded by heavily armed militia. Disobedience is met with near instant retaliation and they fast learn that out here they're no longer untouchable minors. The class is inducted in the rules of Battle Royale via an ironically cheery video tape, before being sent on their way with a small bag of supplies, including a randomly chosen weapon. Ranging from pan lid to Uzi sub-machine gun they're of decidedly mixed efficacy. Within minutes the killing has started, as previously trivial school-yard feuds quickly turn lethal.

Wisely, Fukasaku centres his narrative focus to a handful of students, whilst other less development characters are disposed of early on. Although we're treated very much to 'types' there's sufficient engagement with core back stories for us to care about their plight. So when unrequited love is met with a burst of gunfire, to the strains of a beautiful orchestral accompaniment, there's poignancy to it beyond the gunplay. Although in the terms of high concept it's simply about 'school kids killing each other' there's much more going on here. Seeing bullied kids take revenge and meek ones called to arms is terrifying, funny and tragic all at once, and the film's success actually relies on this emotional wallop far more than the copious blood-letting. Operatic and crazed, the kills themselves are hysterical overwrought acts for the most part, followed by an onscreen message counting down who's been bumped off. It's a neat little device that pre-empts the inevitable audience gripes of "but what happened to..."

Some parts of Battle Royale still work brilliantly - the bombastic classical score is incredible - but others, less so. The surreal conclusion with Kitano just doesn't sit well with me. I'm a big fan of Takeshi Kitano's directorial work but the ending here feels like it's from a different film, both an anticlimax and oddly misplaced in tone. Something else, which hadn't bothered me in the cinema back in 2001 but now does, is the unconvincing CGI blood. Also, though clearly not going for a realist aesthetic, the absence (or inconsistency) of physical holes appearing on people riddled with bullets became a little distracting too.

Perhaps watching it again was never going to live up to that first or second time, but it's still a hell of a movie and one that simply wouldn't get made in the UK or US, let alone become the huge commercial success it did in Japan.

The Discs

A 3 Disc package, there's a lot to get stuck into here though not quite as much as it might seem on paper.

In terms of the transfer, this certainly isn't one of the sharpest or most detailed blu-rays out there, but it is streets ahead of my old Tartan Asia Extreme DVD. It's also not a film I feel would have benefitted from an overly clean transfer given the slightly choppy editing and generally lo-fi feel. Subtitles all seem to be in order, though you'd need a native speaker to confirm that.

The Special Edition is also included here with extra scenes shot after the original release, mostly focusing on extended back stories, and some enhanced/extra CGI work. Whether you prefer this to the original or not, it's nice to have.

The majority of the extras are sub 20 minute featurettes with plenty of behind the scenes footage both during the shoot and at subsequent festivals/screenings. The one lengthy piece is The Making Of Battle Royale: The Experience of 42 High School Students, a solid document on the production. Other highlights include The Correct Way To Make Battle Royale and Conducting Battle Royale with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra which I found strangely compelling... Though it's an impressively complete package there is a large amount of repetition in the featurettes and some provide pretty limited insight.

There's also the typically lavish packaging from Arrow with a comic, booklets, poster and postcards included - sadly, none of which were available for review. Overall, it's a superior release and shows a good deal of respect for the film on Arrow's part.

Battle Royale Limited Edition is out on UK Blu-ray and DVD from 13th December 2010 through Arrow Video.


Special Features

Disc One
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.

Disc Two
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.

Disc Three
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 Fukasaky 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







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J HurtadoDecember 10, 2010 1:30 PM

I should have a review copy of the complete set soon, I'll post a review here as well. Hopefully their Bay of Blood and Deep Red Blus are on their way for review as well.

raydavis1963December 10, 2010 2:17 PM

And this is playable in the US, right?
Can't wait to get it.

Rhythm-XDecember 10, 2010 2:36 PM

Having seen some screen captures from this release, I'm holding out to see what Anchor Bay has in store. Not to say this release looks bad, because it certainly doesn't - but the image quality in the trailers on YouTube for BATTLE ROYALE 3D is a revelation. If Anchor Bay's 2D materials look like that, minus the new CG retardedness, then I can wait a little while longer. If the Anchor Bay 2D version has the new CG all over it (or doesn't include the original theatrical cut) - well, the Arrow release will probably still exist, still look pretty good, and I'll get it then.

J HurtadoDecember 10, 2010 3:00 PM

Yes.

J HurtadoDecember 10, 2010 3:03 PM

I'm about 90% certain that Anchor Bay will get the same master materials as Arrow and they're disc will look about the same. I do not that that the remastered 3D edition of Battle Royale exists in a 2D version, so that footage we see in the trailer will only exist in the 3D version as far as I can tell. Also, as part of their licensing deals, Anchor Bay and Arrow Video both have the distribution rights to the 3D edition as well, so that may be worth looking into later on.

James DennisDecember 11, 2010 6:56 AM

Bay of Blood review on its way from me too - again just the disc, not packaging etc. Be good to hear your thoughts on the sound...

Bob ViolenceDecember 12, 2010 1:50 AM

I do not that that the remastered 3D edition of Battle Royale exists in a 2D version, so that footage we see in the trailer will only exist in the 3D version as far as I can tell.

But they would've had to remaster the original film before they could add all that 3D stuff. Maybe Arrow used that remaster, but from what I've seen this looks very close to the earlier releases of the "special edition", including Tartan's (although not earlier releases of the original cut, which were abominable across the board). It's good to have a decent version of the original cut, and in HD to boot, but I'm not convinced this represents the absolute limit of what can be done with the source.

Bob ViolenceDecember 12, 2010 1:55 AM

I do not that that the remastered 3D edition of Battle Royale exists in a 2D version, so that footage we see in the trailer will only exist in the 3D version as far as I can tell.

But they would've had to remaster the original film before they could add all that 3D stuff. Maybe Arrow used that remaster, but the gulf between this and the aforementioned clips is a big one, whereas from what I've seen this looks very close to the earlier releases of the "special edition", Tartan's included. (Fortunately it doesn't resemble the earlier releases of the original cut, which were abominable across the board.) It's good to have a decent version of the original cut, and in HD to boot, but I'm not convinced this represents the limit of what can be done with the source. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if perhaps this was why Toei had no problem with a foreign HD release (region-free, even) before they'd gotten around to it themselves.

Bob ViolenceDecember 12, 2010 1:57 AM

Sorry for the double post -- the first time it gave me "An Error Occurred" message so I assumed it hadn't gone through.

J HurtadoDecember 12, 2010 12:28 PM

I don't think that its the limit of what can be done, but I do think it may be the limit of what Toei has interest in doing. I can't see them giving Arrow and Anchor Bay different master materials, maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps there'll be a different remastered version from Japan.

Rhythm-XDecember 12, 2010 3:21 PM

The conspiracy theorist in you makes a fair amount of sense.



I'm happy though. For once the worst case scenario - the Arrow release being as good as it gets for the original theatrical cut of the film - isn't really bad at all. This is all a refreshing change of pace as usually it's a matter of "which version of Asian Film X comes closest to being a competent release manufactured by grown-ups to professional standards?" or "Which one of these "legitimate" releases comes closest to (but ultimately fails at) matching the quality of the Internet bootleg?"