Editor’s Note: Images and graphics courtesy of Anchor Bay and Michael Fillier
“The focus of this film is not on the act of killing but on the act of staying alive.”
Fans of The Hunger Games have been voraciously craving anything related to the critically-acclaimed Suzanne Collins trilogy since its release. With the first movie based on the series set for a worldwide release on March 23rd, you would think that their appetite would finally be satiated. Instead, thanks to Anchor Bay, there is an appetizer before the main course.
Since the release of the Hunger Games books, comparisons have been made to Battle Royale (2000), a Japanese film that was based on a 1999 novel by Koushun Takami. We learn in the special features documentary included in the set that the book was a bestseller and sold over 420,000 copies. While this pales in comparison to The Hunger Games, considering the book was published twelve years ago and in Japan, the number is quite impressive spawning a film version. The movie was helmed by Kinji Fukasaku and its release in North America has been the subject of both controversy and conjecture. It was rumored that the movie was initially delayed because of its extreme violence, especially in relation to the increase in school shootings in the U.S. Others say that it was because the distribution rights could never be secured. Regardless, Battle Royale, unlike the majority of its characters, has lived on as a cult classic through online sales and celebrity endorsement. Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill mastermind Quentin Tarantino has said “… if there’s any movie that’s been made since I’ve been making movies that I wish I had made, it’s that one.”
So what’s all the hype about?
The movie takes place in the near future, where the economy has collapsed and there has been a direct increase in the number of juvenile crime. Fearing that the kids aren’t alright, the Japanese government passes ‘The BR Law.’ This entails a single ninth grade class being sent to a remote island where they are fitted with exploding neck collars, given a random weapon and told that they must hunt and kill each other over the course of three days until only one remains and is allowed to return home. If more than one student is left standing by the end of three days, the exploding collars are set off by the military personnel on-site and everyone will die. Pretty grotesque but pretty awesome at the same time right? That is precisely its appeal.
The tagline for the movie says that it is 42 students, three days, one survivor with no escape which sounds quite similar to Jeff Probst’s line at the beginning of every Survivor season and given that the book was written in 1999, its ironic that CBS’ reality show franchise launched the following year and the same year that the movie made its debut.
One of the strongest similarities to The Hunger Games is the movie’s love story. While it isn’t the Katniss/Gale/Peeta triangle, the relationship between Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda) is one of the primary storylines in the movie where Shuya feels the need to protect the innocent Noriko from the harsh reality of Battle Royale so it is interesting to see how he accomplishes this in a game where there can only be one winner.
There are two primary concepts that automatically run through the mind when watching Battle Royale. With the obvious suspension of disbelief that is required to enjoy it, you can’t help but wonder if something like this would actually be possible with growing concerns about a burgeoning population and America’s increasing desire for voyeuristic television. In addition to the aforementioned Survivor, shows like Big Brother and The Real World have only increased in popularity since their establishment and it certainly isn’t as impossible to consider in 2012 than it was in 2000 when the movie was originally released. The other point worth noting is that it is the idea of ruining the children’s innocence by forcing them to kill each other for sport and the amusement of others that is the most controversial, condemning and compelling.
With regard to the differences between the theatrical release and the director’s cut, the latter includes many more flashback sequences and I am still deciding whether these make the viewing experience more enjoyable of they are an unnecessary detriment. While seeing the class play basketball and be friendly with each other juxtaposes the act of killing each other nicely, it definitely slows down the pacing of the movie. The flashbacks at the end of the movie are completely unnecessary as well. That being said, learning about why Mitsuko’s character is as heartless as she is that makes watch all the extra footage worth your time.
As for the sequel, that was universally torn apart by critics, Requiem primarily revolves around the idea of one of the characters returning from the first movie in a much different role. There is another ‘game’ but it doesn’t last nearly as long as the premise of the movie is much more political as the government seeks to remove a group of terrorists and uses the Battle Royale format to help them accomplish this goal. There are some shocking moments in the sequel as well with an image of two buildings crashing, which obviously is meant to resemble 9/11 and the Twin Towers. While Battle Royale II is definitely not nearly as great as the original, I don’t think it is as bad as some have made it out to be. The movie displays a marked improvement in terms of picture quality, and while the plotline is even more unbelievable, no one is buying this DVD set for its narrative.
The Battle Royale: Complete Collection is presented in four discs. The packaging is gorgeous with the DVD holder being presented as a book with four parts, with each disc representing its own chapter. Visually, it is the best looking DVD set that I have seen in years.
The first disc is the director’s cut. The second disc is the theatrical cut. The third disc is the sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem. The fourth disc is the bonus material. The video resolution is presented in its original aspect ratio. 1.85:1 with a 1080p transfer. The audio is fantastic with an impressive Dolby TrueHD 7.1 with the English dubbed version only including a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. There are English subtitles available on all four discs.
The special features disc includes:
The Making Of Battle Royale – We learn that Battle Royale is director Kinji Fukasaku’s 60th movie and his controlling style which was fascinating. Clearly a perfectionist, he screams at one of the actors to look more frightened and is just as animated as Tarantino is on-set. Clearly they are kindred spirits. There are a ton of little gems here for the hardcore Battle Royale Fan. This runs for just over 50 minutes.
Battle Royale Press Conference – Fantastic footage of the film’s first press conference where the director admits that people ask him why he is still directing despite his age. He admits that he identified with the book and compared it to the experience he had when he was 15 with World War II and that what’s prompted him to want to take such a prominent role in its construction. He also said that he was fascinated by how to communicate the idea of war to a generation who had been lucky enough to not have been forced to experience it yet. It runs for about 12 minutes.
Instructional Video: Birthday Version – A great inclusion. One of the creepiest moments in the movie is when the students have to watch an instructional video about how to kill each other. It appears that Japanese film crews also like to prank each other as this parodied as the same movie used in the film. It was made to celebrate Kinji Fukasaku’s 70th birthday (who else?) and presumably was presented to him on set.
Audition & Rehearsal Footage – Runs for about seven minutes.
Special Effects Comparison Featurette– Set to the music of “An Der Schonen Blauen Donau Op. 134,” we get to see how the special effects team put together some of the classic imagery used in the film including the exploding necklaces, bodies being blown away, dead eyes and the composite images used. Runs just over four minutes.
Tokyo International Film Festival 2000 – Footage from the gala screening of Battle Royale from the October 2000 film festival. Includes the cast introducing the movie. Everything is subtitled. Runs just over four minutes.
Battle Royale Documentary – Even if this documentary was released as its own disc, I would certainly make it a high-priority purchase. While the movie is the draw, the footage and interviews included here are the standout. While a North American DVD release was always expected, I am sure that the delay allowed for Anchor Bay to stockpile extras and actually being able to see the director give acting pointers and behind-the-scenes footage give fans who have already seen the movie something else to look forward to. The documentary runs for 12 minutes.
Basketball Scene Rehearsals – This extra scene was apparently shot six months after the movie wrapped its initial filming. It was shot specifically for the special edition DVD and was originally shot in February 2001. It runs just over 8 minutes.
Behind-The-Scenes Featurette – This was humorous primarily because in the featurette, even the director admits how tough it was to keep everyone’s names straight. We also get a look at the last day of shooting which was filmed on September 2, 2000. Really it is just a combination of interviews with the cast and b-roll from set. It runs for about 10 minutes.
Filming On-Set – More b-roll and interviews. The documentary, basketball scene rehearsals, behind-the-scenes featurette and this on-set could have all been combined to run as a longer feature since they were all basically the same thing but breaking it up makes for easier viewing. It runs for about 11 minutes.
Original Theatrical Trailer
Special Edition TV Spot
TV Spot: Tarantino Version – This is just a commercial for the movie that features a couple of quotes from Tarantino himself. Nothing to write home about.
If you are a fan of The Hunger Games, Battle Royale is the perfect pre-game purchase. You can draw your own conclusion about the influences it may or may not have had on Suzane Collins’ trilogy. From a movie fan’s standpoint, it is a must-buy. When I initially saw Tarantino’s Kill Bill, I remember reading about how he was inspired by Battle Royale, and after finally seeing the movie, I have a much greater appreciation for his opus.
While critics can disagree about whether the movie is too gruesome or whether the idea of kids killing each other in an effort to control overpopulation shouldn’t have been released theatrically, I believe that Battle Royale pushed the limits of filmmaking and is a prerequisite to complete any collection. The key is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and the Japanese film format of grandiose parody works perfectly in this realm. One of the early knocks against The Hunger Games has been that eliminates too much of the violence in an effort to retain its PG rating. In that regard, Battle Royale is the exact opposite as it celebrates and encourages the brutal bloodshed.
In an effort to offer the final determination as to whether The Hunger Games copied Battle Royale, I also have read the book. While they do seem similar on the surface, I do believe that they exist separately. While they are both about kids killing each other to survive a game imposed by the government, the motivations are different as are the character dynamics. In terms of sequels, Requiem is definitely not Catching Fire. The degree of violence also differs dramatically.
Everyone who watches this film or any for that matter, has their own motivations for it. In the case of Battle Royale, maybe it’s because you heard about the controversy. Or you love The Hunger Games. You might be a student of Tarantino’s work. Perhaps you just like bloody battles to the death. Maybe you just want to see Survivor taken to a new level. In the end, it doesn’t matter why you pick it up. The bottom line is that you need to see this movie.
Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Battle Royale: The Complete Collection. Written by Koushun Takami. Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku. Starring: Chiaki Kuriyama, Beat Takeshi. Running time: 368 minutes. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: March 20, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.