Battle Royale Complete Edition
I’m usually pretty connected when it comes to what films are causing any sort of buzz or controversy but every so often I attain enlightenment from my friends. One in particular is a huge aficionado of Japanese films and animation. One afternoon he talked me into something he considered an especially prized title, a region 1 edition of the controversial Japanese thriller, ‘Battle Royale’. There had been long held and misinformed rumors that the film had been banned in the United States when actually it was delayed on our shores for the much more mundane reason of conflict over the distribution rights. It caused quite a stir in Japan with many unsuccessful efforts to ban the film but as one of the top grossing movies in the country that was doubtful. The movie is fairly recent, 2000, fir the first of the pair, well within the time span when torture porn horror films like ‘Saw’ dominated the Cineplex but this movie took violence to another level. It is set is a dystopian future where the Japanese government took a novel approach to the problems of youthful unemployment and opting out of school. They gathered some teens together on an island gave them a truck load of weapons and told them the last one standing gets to go home. The rest get to help fertilize the verdant jungle with their corpses. As appealing as this may sound especially to anyone living in an urban setting that is plagued by youth gangs many found it to be a revolting concept. The level of violence is over rated by most standards which are actually part of the brilliance of the filmmaker. Only a few actual overt acts of violence are witnessed in the film but after watching you would sign an avadavat that the mayhem was a constant stream of blood and gore. Now the many fans here in the States and relish the Complete Battle Royale box set in high definition. This four disc set contains the original theatrical cut, the director’s cut and ‘Battle Royale II: Requiem’. Rounding out the set in the forth disc that contains over three hours of bonus material.
Fed up with unemployed youths boycotting school the government is forced to take drastic action. As the roll-up opening the film explains the prevalence of this opinion lead to the legislature passing the ‘Millennium Educational Reform Act’, better known as the BR Act or just Battle Royale. The students in class 3B are herded into a classroom while on a field trip and told that they are the ones chosen to participate in this year’s battle. After music video style indoctrination film the forty teenagers are surrounded by a military guard and prepared for the coming ordeal. Each teen has been fitted with a metallic collar. If they try to remove it, escape, refuse to participate or disobey any ruler it will be detonated turning their head into a few pounds of warm goo. There is one more twist to the deadly proceedings. There are randomly designated red zones. Once a region attains that status the participants have only minutes to get to as safe zone. Once the zone goes red the collars of every in it will explode. The architects of this ‘game’ are sadists in every sense of the word. Before sending them off to the rest of their short lives each are issued a few provisions. There are the standard items like a map and water but what is especially twisted is some receive weapons like guns and knives while others are issued more enigmatic items like a pot lid, binoculars or a paper fan. Once these items are distributed the kids are unceremoniously tossed out of the building; the Battle Royale has commenced.
The film is more a psychological thriller than anything else. As noted much of the bloodshed is heavily implied so you tend to concentrate of the few exceptions. With a rather large number on the outset the first thing the director Kinji Fukasaku had to accomplish was to thin the herd and project a few of the characters into the lead positions. He does this exceptionally well with a clearly defined protagonist and merciless villain. The social dynamic established truly carries the film. It does examine the social problems of Japan, and by extension, a global concern, but that is only the tip of the stories. There is a primal nature that emerges that is reminiscent of a modernization of ‘The Lord of the Flies’. When immature teens are let loose devoid of any social constraints the most primal, instincts quickly bubble forth.
The director’s cut, also referred to as the special edition, includes more obvious bloodshed thanks to the addition of CGI splatter. There is also additional exposition for the background of the central characters and somewhat unnecessary padding of various scenes.
A few of the survivors of previous Battles have gathered together to form a gang called ‘He Wild Seven’. An unexpected side effect of the BR act was to create a crucible that would forge, through an extreme form of natural selection, the most violent, blood thirsty and capable killers imaginable. The Japanese government culls a class of Junior High School delinquents sending to a deserted island ostensibly for a Battle but they soon discover the island is the head quarters of the Wild Seven. Instead of fighting each other they are sent to seek out and kill the seven. Unlike the first film the audience and critical reception was considerably less favorable. It was intended to take on a broader range of issues but this only managed to dilute the overall effect and a need to fall back on gratuitous violence.
The four discs are contained in a package that looks like a book. While I’m difficult to impress with packaging this does sit well on my shelf. What really matters is the perfection of the technical specifications. For a set that is enjoying its initial legal release in Region One the mastering is spectacular. The clarity is particularly noticeable in the verdant jungle settings contrasting with the texture and flow of the costumes. The color balance is much improved quality with an exemplary contrast and saturation. Compared to the grey market versions I have seen this is a top notch, on par with any mainstream release. The original and special cuts were never shining example of cinematic visual art the improvement is noticeable without sacrificing the gritty, look and feel of the film. The audio also has been enhanced to the point where you are transported into the middle of the jungle. Yes these are somewhat difficult to watch but fans are certainly going to enjoy this set.