Recently I had the pleasure of reviewing the very entertaining film The Hunger Games which sees 24 teenagers battling to the death to be the last person alive. My main issue with the film, besides ripping off The Running Man too much, was the lack of violence, but in this day and age where the almighty dollar rules above art it was quite obviously censored to remain accessible to a larger audience. Unbeknownst to me the Japanese film industry released a very similar film in 2000 called Battle Royale (which is known as Batoru rowaiaru in Japan and based on Koushun Takami's 1999 novel) which also sees teenagers fighting to the death - but in this film, there's plenty of gore.
In the near future, Japan is in a state of collapse. With high unemployment and a generation of youth out of control, the government enacts the Battle Royale programme. Each year, a randomly chosen school class is pitted against itself on an abandoned island in a cruel game of survival. With a former teacher (Takeshi Kitano) overseeing the game, this is a fight to the death with only one winner. The rules are simple: It lasts 3 days. Each player starts with food, water and a random weapon. If more than one player survives, everyone dies. There is no escape.
As the roll call begins, each kid grabs a backpack and stumbles away towards death or murder. As the game progresses, terror and panic challenge the students fragile trust in each other. Some suspect everyone, blindly striking down those who cross their paths. Others form alliances dreaming of a peaceful solution with multiple survivors. Despite the games’ brutality, the adolescent players maintain their school obsessions with crushes, petty grudges and their dreams. But as the game approaches its shocking final stages, even this semblance of normality disintegrates.
Given the rather cheap production budget of $US4.5 million, Battle Royale really is an impressive release with a decent cast, albeit a majority being unknown young actors, good visual effects, and nice location work. The storyline is engrossing enough, even with a nice little twist at the end (Which we won't spoil), but it's the manner of deaths, and the way each student handles the situation that will have you hooked. Quentin Tarantino calls this one of his favourite films in recent times, and it's not hard to see why given the films violence and characters, but he even went so far as employing of the actresses in Battle Royale, Chiaki Kuriyama, as the deadly Gogo Yubari in his Kill Bill films a couple of years later.
It's also worth noting that the Australian Blu-Ray release includes the 122 minute Special Edition of the film which adds a little more back story to some characters, and a few more moments of gore. Unlike the American release we do not have the option to select the 114 minute Theatrical version. It's also important to note that this disc does not contain the 2010 3D re-release which may disappoint some.
Admittedly when I saw Battle Royale for the first time I was impressed by the characters, the storyline and the violence levels (not that violence makes a great film, but it just gave it that "Ohhh" factor here), but I was a little disappointed in the "plain" presentation, and duller visuals, compared to the Hollywood version - The Hunger Games. All told though, and with subsequent viewings my appreciation for this film is growing and it's edging closer towards the top of my favourite films pile.
Of course the shift to 1080p video over DVD offers a marked improvement (and you can see that as the DVD full of extras includes the film as well), but it's not a film you would use as a demo disc for the High Definition format.
There are two audio tracks on this release - the original Japanese soundtrack encoded in Dolby TrueHD 7.1, and an English dubbed version in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 both of which have, for a film now well over 10 years old, exceptional quality in surround sound use and with plenty of sub-woofer kicking in at times as well. Certainly one aspect of the film that I admired was the use of classic music from artists such as Verdi, Schubert, Strauss and Bach to set the tone during certain, typically violent, sequences of the film.
Unfortunately we have an issue with the English dub of the film. Generally we despise watching foreign films with English dubs - the incorrect lip-synching just annoys the hell out of us - but the problem here is that the English dialogue is often quite different to the Japanese translation - either that or the subtitles on the Japanese language version are wildly incorrect. Either way, watching the film with English dubbing and English subtitles is often like watching two separate films.
Making of Battle Royale (50:24): This is a decent look at the making of the film primarily filled with on-set footage including plenty of the 70 year old director in action as well as interviews with the stars about the film. Unfortunately, not all the dialogue includes English subtitles, so as a non-Japanese speaking person much of the intent is conveyed through tone only, but it's still a documentary well worth your time.
Instructional Video: Birthday Version (3:02): A pretty funny video with the crazy lady that introduces the rules of the game, but this time introducing the actors to the film and warns them about extending the films shooting time with explosive results! It then goes into a Birthday surprise for the director.
Audition & Rehearsal Footage (7:11): As the title suggest this is a series of pre-filming footage with the director rehearsing and finding his actors.
Special Effects Comparison (4:16): This neat little extra shows the original filmed footage, the composites and then the final shot. It's amazing how much is filmed, and then altered for the finished product - not just in this film, but almost every film today.
Tokyo International Film Festival 2000 (4:26): A small piece about the films premiere at this festival with the actors and director saying a few words to the audience.
Basketball Scene Rehearsals (8:38): This extra looks at filming the basketball scenes several months after the films production finished for the Special Extended Edition (which is the one in this Blu-Ray set).
Behind The Scenes (10:08): Yet more on-set footage with interviews but around half way there's an interesting exchange about getting into the mindset of the character - despite never having been put in the same situation in real-life.
Filming On Set (11:00): No surprise here, even more on-set footage. Again it's pretty good but I have to wonder if all these segments could have been edited together as there is some repetition, albeit often from different angles.
Special Editions TV Spot, Tarantino Version (0:31): Tarantino says a few quotes in this alternate TV spot.
Theatrical Trailer (1:39): This is the pretty impressive Japanese trailer for Battle Royale which sells the movie very well indeed.
Eastern Eye Trailers: Here we have trailers for The Chasing World (1:49) which looks pretty impressive, Bedevilled (2:09), Outrage (2:05) which stars Beat Takeshi and Haunters (1:38).
Review By: Dave Warner