Battle Royal: The Complete Collection
Directors: Kinji Fukasaku, Kenta Fukasaku
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto, Ai Maeda, Shûgo Oshinari
Review by Brian M. Sammons
Battle Royal is a near legendary, violent, dark, and impressively well-made Japanese movie with a surprising amount of message it wants to deliver along with its sometimes over-the-top violence. I say that it’s legendary, not only for daring to do things that most other films would run like hell away from, but because sadly, for various legal reasons, it was never released in the US. Still, even with that huge hurdle to overcome, many people here sought out import DVDs or even crappy bootlegs just to see this amazing movie. Well thankfully the long drought has ended and we here in America can at last get this film at our local stores. And the best part is that it’s one hell of a cool package. In fact it is so cool that I’m going to change things up a bit and start with the extras and presentation of the movies (yes there are two of them here) before getting into the films themselves.
Battle Royal: The Complete Collection lives up to its subtitle and is presented in topnotch fashion by Anchor Bay in a three Blu-ray and one DVD set. The three BDs contain the theatrical cut of the first Battle Royal, the director’s cut of the same movie, and Battle Royal 2: Requiem. All the movies are presented in HD and look … sadly only ok. The Battle Royal flicks have never looked really amazing in any format, but for their big coming out party in America, not to mention them being on Blu-ray, they really should have looked a lot better than they did here. No they don’t look horrible, but the video could have been polished up a bit and had some of the rather muted colors brightened. As for how the films sound, the director’s cut of the first movie has an English dubbed audio track, while the other two Blu-rays only have a Japanese language track and English subtitles. Sadly, none of the movies come with any commentary tracks, but that’s par for the course for forging films released here. The DVD contains all the extras, and there are an impressive pile of them. There’s a short (12 minute) documentary on Battle Royal, a press conference video, behind-the-scenes featurette, auditions, rehearsals, cut scenes, a nearly hour long making of featurette, a featurette on the special effects, a short video from the Tokyo International Film Festival 2000, and more. And yes, most of these special features are in Japanese with English subtitles, but if you’re interested in these movies at all, I’m going to guess that such things are not a big deal for you. Oh, and as the cherry on top; the whole package comes in a nice, hardcover book-like binder.
So now you know that Anchor Bay put a bunch of time and effort into bringing these movies out in style, the question is: was it worth it?
Oh hell yes it was.
The story behind the original, groundbreaking film refreshingly original and crazy. Ok, the movie is based off of a novel, but the statement stands. In Japan the youth are so out of control that the government institutes a new law; the BR Act. With it, soldiers abduct a class of middle school students, with the full blessing of their teacher, and transport them to a remote island where they are forced to take part in a kill or be killed game of death. All the kids have an exploding collar locked around their necks and are told that they have three days to kill each other off until only one remains. If at the end of three days there is more than one student left, all will be killed off. To “help” them, each student is given a random bag. In addition to food and water, some hold swords and guns, while others contain only paper fans and frying pans. The lesson here: life is not fair. This predicament turns student against student and pits lifelong friends against one another while the cold, cruel eyes of the adults watch everything unfold on closed circuit television.
There are several themes present in this very violent and bloody movie. First it’s a tale of survival and how some try to hang on to humanity even in the face of utter destruction. After all there is no escape from this island, and if you chose not to kill then you will certainly be killed in at least three days. It also shows how some embrace chaos and violence, either willingly or because of past traumas, both physical and mental. Perhaps the biggest message this movie wants to impart is to distrust authority. Some say that it’s a parable for the military and war, as the old always throw the young into the meat grinder, forcing them to kill and be killed. I agree with that, but I think it’s a more of a general … “hey, question all authorities because you never know” idea. Whichever the case, it is effectively dramatized here as you see young kids (in the movie they should be around 15 or so, although most actors do appear older than that) forced to become animals by the people who should be looking out for them the most: the adults.
So Battle Royal is one of the few films that flirts with the title of “masterpiece” that I could actually see earning it. The movie has a lot to offer to whole lot of different people. If you just want an over the top, gory, action fest, BR will do that for you. If you like movies with deeper meanings and messages, this flick has got you covered. If you’re a Japanophile who likes all things from the land of the rising sun, this film is so Japanese that it should come with a side order of sushi and sake. It is a one of a kind experience that could not be done any better than it is here.
Sadly, others out there did not agree with the previous sentence and in 2003 they made a sequel to Battle Royal. As good as the first film was, the follow up is pretty damn terrible. This unnecessary and unwanted sequel was started by the original director, the very talented, but elderly, Kinji Fukasaku, who sadly died early on in the shooting of the Battle Rolay 2: Requiem. The reins were then picked up by his son, Kenta Fukasaku, who not only dropped the ball, but kicked it down the street, bounced it over a curb, and into a fresh pile of dog crap some lazy dog walker failed to poop scoop.
Gee, can you guess how much I like the sequel?
Seriously, it’s a mess. It is boring, overly long, and often just nonsensical. Sure the first film had some crazy ideas, but it made sense in a cold, brutal, practical way. This follow up just does far too many things for the sake of the plot alone. The story is a bit of a confusing mess, starting with a terrorist-slash-resistance group taking on the authoritarians still in charge of Japan. Some of these revolutionaries are survivors of the old Battle Royal games. So in order to take care of the problem, the government garbs a whole new class of middle school students, puts the explosive collars on them, and gives them new rules like paring them up boy-girl and telling them that if they get too far from each other they heads will blow up. How will this stop the terrorist? Because the adults will use these new kids to kill the rebels. That’s right, the government knows exactly where their enemies are and could bomb them into the Stone Age through naval bombardment or the air force, or use professional solders to do the job. Instead they throw some untrained school kids at the terrorists first. Huh? So it’s off to the island base of the rebels, the new kids are given guns but no bullets (again, huh? These guys are working for the government, right?), and an arbitrary deadline of 72 hours. Why? Because that’s the same time limit that the first movie had. It all makes perfect sense, right? Who cares, this movie sure doesn’t. It all just a flimsy excuse to retread the teen on teen violence that made the first movie so (in)famous. Sadly it’s not even a pale shadow of the original film in message, acting, direction, or even gory violence.
So is it a bad thing that BR 2 is part of this collection? Hell no, I’m glad it’s here. If Battle Royal 2 was on its own disc I would pass on it. However it is a welcome addition here as it just sort of feels right to have both movies in one package. Will I watch it again? Probably not, but it’s nice that I have the option to do so if I someday want to.
This is the multi Blu-ray set to have for Battle Royal fans. It far outshines any edition of the film (not to mention the lackluster sequel) to date. If you loved this movie and just have an import DVD, or heaven forbid a bootleg, then you need to upgrade this set. If you have yet to see or get this movie, and you’re not offended by violet and very dark films, then do yourself a huge favor and pick up this Complete Collection today. BR is still as cool and powerful today as it was in 2000. Consider it highly recommended.