Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kenta Fukasaku
Based On A Novel By: Koushun Takami
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Chiaki Kuriyama, Takeshi Kitano
Duration: 114 / 122 min (133 / 155 Min Battle Royale II Requiem / Revenge)
BBFC Certification: 18
The landscape of cinema changed dramatically from the late 90s onwards in the level of violence that was depicted on screen and the effect it had on the rest of the world. Once again scenes with a high level of violence (specifically those involving shoot outs) were being called out as having the potential to be negative towards society and the impressionable youth, and immediately ‘Battle Royale’ was one that became synonymous with that train of thought. In watching it though, its purpose is never to glorify violence but instead serve the purpose of the story, one that acts as an extreme addition to the trials and tribulations of navigating school, your teenage years and the emotional rollercoasters that occur within those years. The depiction of the dissolving connection between adults and youth is also equally predominant, resulting in the knowledge that either side is to blame within the call and response of each side holding the other accountable for their personal and societal failings.
And so onto the film itself, in case you haven’t seen it or need a slight refresher. Opening with a chaotic media frenzy over the one survivor of a previous Battle Royale contest, the survivor is shown to be a young girl with a disconnected smile on her face and being covered in spatters of blood whilst clutching a doll. Immediately you’re left with questions about what happened for this girl to get to this point and yet you’re left wondering but ultimately confused by the disassociation and excitement the press have for what they’re witnessing. It’s one of the most impactful openings I’ve seen to this day and instantly you’re put into a state of unease as you now know what you’re in for even though you don’t understand it yet.
At the very beginning of the film, each of the main characters begin in a personally isolated state whether it be central characters Noriko and Kitano respectively as the only student or teacher that partakes in the education system all the way, to the main protagonist Shuya losing his father to suicide in the very opening scene. As deplorable as the game they take part in is, it’s the very thing that brings them together and allows them to see something in the other that isn’t lost to the way of the depressing world they inhabit.
When headed on a seemingly innocent school trip, the class of 42 students are sedated on the coach and when they wake up in a classroom on an uninhabited island they quickly find out they’re being forced to participate in Battle Royale, led by their old teacher Kitano, a game where the goal is for the students to kill each other until there’s only one survivor. Chaos quickly ensues and over the course of the film we see several factions build up and break down, players who go out on their own to win and as the number of remaining students goes down we see the hope of those left begin to dwindle. It can be a hard watch on an emotional level but for the main characters that we follow throughout, we begin to hold on to the hope that they’ll get through it all.
In the attempt to define ‘Battle Royale’ in the category of genre, the term ‘action’ gets thrown around a fair bit when it’s being discussed but, personally, I don’t see it as an action film by any level of trait but a film that has action in it to serve the point it’s trying to get across to the audience. What I mean by that is that the film doesn’t do fights or explosions for the sake of them, but as an extreme level of pulling the audience into the horrifying situation the characters are having to go through. No one attempts highly choreographed fight scenes, it’s messy, sudden and brutal and a lot of the time when one student is trying to kill another, it never goes according to plan and where the film shines in its depiction of violence is that it isn’t easy (other than the psychopathic exchange student) for the killers to go through with their actions cleanly and they have to get their hands dirty.
Kinji Fukasaku, prior to this film, was known most strongly outside of Japan for his series of films in the ‘Battles Without Honor and Humanity’ saga (both the original and the later series) – most notable for their documentary style approach that made a key point of introducing every character with text on screen and when they were dispatched it would do the same marking the death as a further movement in navigating the criminal world these characters inhabited. ‘Battle Royale’, in the hands of a different director, with the film having incredibly strong themes such as those above, would no doubt only focus on the violence and the shock factor but what stands out predominately here is the way it was filmed and whilst it doesn’t shy away from the violence, it doesn’t embellish it to the point of being completely overboard. The most graphic it gets is the head with the grenade thrown through the window and the aftermath of one girl killing two boys and just leaving their bodies on the ground without a care for anything. Outside of those and a couple of other moments, ‘Battle Royale’ subscribes more to the great effect that editing and performances can have to portray violence on screen as serving the expression of themes and progressing the narrative.
Much like the handling of violence in the ‘Battles’ films, Fukasaku focuses on the erratic nature of the fighting and whilst it’s still easy enough to follow the actions that occur on screen, they’re not glorified or betraying of the emotions the characters feel. The camera movements reflect the way the characters are feeling in those moments, as they’re moving around for dear life to try and win the current outcome. One section of camerawork and editing in particular that serves as a perfect example of this is the scene in the lighthouse where the trust between a group of friends quickly breaks down and without anyone fully meaning to fight the others, it quickly descends into violence and has an unfortunate end to it all. None of them are fighters and the choreography that the film does utilise highlights the struggles they’d have to hold and fire a weapon they had no previous experience in doing so. The subsequent flailing whilst trying to fire a machine gun without getting hit by return fire makes the scene all the more impactful and truthful to the characters involved.
All in all, it’s an incredible piece of filmmaking, turning such a controversial novel and narrative into a film that expands beyond itself becoming iconic not only for the way it handles its immediate nature of violence but its personal themes both on screen and behind the camera. The set itself is one that instantly marks itself as the absolute definitive edition of this film to own outdoing even the previous limited edition set by Arrow that was already substantial in its offerings. Featuring not only the second film in both of its versions, that serves more as a companion piece for the curious rather than a completely successful sequel, as well as the soundtrack and a brand new 120 page monograph on Kinji Fukasaku by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes and a few more collectable goodies listed below, it’s a release that is easy to recommend an immediate purchase of.
* For this review I’m only able to work off the first two discs in the set featuring the first film in both the original and special edition cuts and their bonus features, as those were the only discs I received.
Special Features :
New – Audio Commentary with Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp
This brand new commentary track (which is the very first one the two have done together) goes in-depth on the reputation of the film, the changes from the novel, the cast and crew involved and their thoughts and experiences from watching the film. Sounding exactly as it should when two film journalists get together to discuss a film, it’s a great commentary that reveals a lot of information about the film and how it’s perceived.
New – Coming of Age: Battle Royale at 20 – 42 Mins
A newly filmed documentary about the legacy of Battle Royale featuring interviews with Kim Newman, Kaori Shoji, Mark Schilling, Paul Smith and Yoshiki Takahashi.
New – Bloody Education: Kenta Fukasaku on Battle Royale – 35 Mins
An interview with Kenta Fukasaku that discusses the initial reception to the novel by Koushun Takami and the process of transforming the original novel by Koushun Takami into the now recognised feature film, as well as his father’s approach to the central narrative themes in his films.
The Making of Battle Royale: The Experience of 42 High School Students – 51 Mins
A documentary from the original releases of the film with a fly on the wall style that’s an example of the best kind of making of there is, focusing on the shoot itself with on set interviews and how it was all put together. It’s quickly revealed during the production how much of a Kinji Fukasaku film it all is even revealing more information on what it was like for the director when he was 15 at the end of WWII. Throughout the entire making of it’s clear to see that everyone involved is aware of the kind of film it is even one with such a unique and harrowing subject matter and there’s a distinct energy behind the scenes that they know they’re part of something incredibly special. A couple of the cast are even surprised that the film will be unavailable to anyone under 18 and give their reasons why they think it’s equally important if not more so that teenagers should be able to see it.
Behind The Scenes – 12 Mins
Containing extra footage not used in the Making Of and other filmed interviews with the cast and crew, all of the interviewees give their short thoughts on the film, what it’s about and why it should be seen. With short clips from the film used as well, it gives enough of a sense of the film without giving any spoilers away.
Filming on Set – 11 Mins
Once again taking unused footage from the making of, this short piece goes into further depth of the creative process on the set and how involved Kinji Fukasaku was throughout the entire production.
Conducting Battle Royale with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra – 7 Mins
Focusing on a look at the recording of the soundtrack, if you’re a fan of the music used in the film then this is an essential watch as you get to understand the importance of the music in the film to display the emotional journey that the characters go through.
At the end of the first disc out of the full four in this set there’s already enough content here to immediately give it the highest review score but the second disc with the extended special edition cut featuring additional footage shot specifically for its release, it becomes an extra reason to purchase this set, especially if you haven’t seen or bought it before.
The Special Edition – 2h 2Min
Opening with new title cards it immediately lets you know that this isn’t just a simple extended cut. Brand new footage was shot six months after the film had come out and adds further context to the characters’ journey in the film through flashback footage of the class together at a basketball game resulting in the events of the island becoming even more impactful as well as the inclusion of slightly longer takes of several scenes. It’ll come down to preference which version of the film you prefer when looking at the pacing and impact of it all but for me the brand new footage of the basketball game adds a deeper emotional level to the events throughout the film. If you’ve never seen this version of the film before I highly recommend it but only after seeing the original theatrical version of the film.
Shooting the Special Edition – 8 Mins
Picking up with the cast and crew six months after the initial release this short featurette shows everyone slipping back comfortably into their roles both in front of and behind the camera. A personal highlight of the footage on offer showing how the basketball game was filmed shows two crew members pushing the cameraman along whilst he’s wearing skates.
Takeshi Kitano Interview – 12 Mins
An interview with ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano during the filming about his life, career and character in the film going into further detail about the process from what was mentioned in previous featurettes on the first disc as well as a discussion on the violence in the film.
Royale Rehearsals – 7 Mins
Behind the scenes footage of Kinji Fukasaku working with the cast through the audition process, stunt preparations and character moments.
Masamichi Amano Conducts Battle Royale – 9 Mins
Featurette on composer Masamichi Amano conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra for the film’s soundtrack with more footage similar to that on the first disc. For fans of the soundtrack, this footage combined with the previous makes for a wonderful watch seeing these compositions being performed.
Special Effects Comparison – 4 Mins
A short comparison video that looks at several special effects used in the film starting with the original image and then moving through composites to the final shot and lastly the finished footage in the film. There are moments revealed here that you would never guess used special effects in the finished film and it makes you realise how much went into creating a specific look and how well crafted it all is.
Premiere Press Conference – 12 Mins
A Press Conferences with the cast and crew of ‘Battle Royale’ ahead of its premiere in Japan complete with several of the cast in costume with fake guns included. Although these conferences would have been standard fare at the time they were filmed, it all takes on a much more emotional vibe when Kinji Fukasaku is speaking about why he made this film and the passion he’s maintained for directing throughout his career when we now know that this was his final finished film and with the cast speaking about how influential Kinji was to them during filming it brings to light even more how much of an important filmmaker he was.
Tokyo International Film Festival Presentation – 4 Mins
The director and main cast of ‘Battle Royale’ presenting the film at its official premiere at the 13th Tokyo International Film Festival in October 2000 where those on stage shared their thoughts and feelings on the film including the tradition of the 3-3-1 clap.
Opening Night at the Marunouchi Toei Movie Theatre – 14 Mins
A public introduction by the director and main cast during the Opening Night at the Marunouchi Toei Theatre in Tokyo on 16th December 2000 showcasing the large crowds that were lining up to see the film complete with programmes and an atmosphere of excitement. With all the other behind the scenes features focusing on the cast sharing their experiences at the time of filming, it’s great to hear their words on the film upon its completed state where they’re clearly proud of the film they made.
Battle Royale Instructional Videos & Trailers
Featuring the instructional video in its film version and the brilliant birthday edition made for Kinji Fukasaku on his 70th Birthday as well as multiple trailers including the Tarantino presented teaser. This section also features 30 minutes of trailers for other films from the director.
The set also includes the following:
DISC THREE – BATTLE ROYALE II: REQUIEM
- Bloody Graduation: Kenta Fukasaku on Battle Royale II, an exclusive brand new interview with the director and screenwriter of Battle Royale II
- Behind the Scenes of Battle Royale II, on-location featurette during the film’s shoot
- Rehearsals footage of the auditions and pre-production rehearsals
- War and Struggle, featurette of the cast discussing their thoughts on war
- Alternate Piano Scene
- The Recording of the Music Score, archive footage of Masamichi Amano and the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra
- Opening Gala with The Orchestra, featuring a public introduction by the director and main cast
- Battle Royale II Premiere, a featurette on the film’s first screening at the Marunouchi Toei Movie Theatre
- Trailers and TV spots
- Image gallery
DISC FOUR – BATTLE ROYALE II: REVENGE
- A Tribute to Kinji Fukasaku, featuring scenes of Kinji Fukasaku on the location of Battle Royale II
- Kinji Fukasaku’s 73rd Birthday: A Speech by Kenta Fukasaku, paying public tribute to his father
- Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new essays by Matt Alt and Anne Billson and archival articles
- Exclusive Battle Royale collectors’ Trump Card set [Limited Edition Exclusive]
- Reversible poster with new artwork [Limited Edition Exclusive]
Having already purchased the previous limited edition set from Arrow several years ago, I can easily say that the brand new content on offer combined with the original special features as well as the incredible new transfers, ‘Battle Royale’ is well worth a double dip (or more if like me you’ve been buying each release to see more discussion and analysis added) if you own any version of the film released prior to this set. Going through the new features and revisiting the old ones has reignited my love and appreciation for this film and looking through all of it for this review has been an absolute joy with my longstanding passion for the film and its place in cinema. Arrow definitely have a lot to live up to for the rest of the year after releasing such a comprehensive set and this is immediately an essential purchase for any collector and an instant contender for best release of the year.