Dir: Kinji Fukasaku
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibaski, Takashi Tsukamoto, Chiaki Kuriyama.
Despite being released 12 years ago, the Japanese action film BATTLE ROYALE is still quite a very controversal film to this very day. Once you hear what the film is about, it’s easy to understand why it caused an absolute uproar when it released in 2000 (plus it didn’t help that it came out a year after the tragic Columbine shootings, which was one of the main reasons why it took so long for the film to get a proper official release in the U.S.). Still despite all the controversies over the passed decade, the film now has become a cult classic among both critics and film geeks and has influenced many filmmakers (one in particular is director Quentin Tarantino, who has been quoted as saying that BATTLE ROYALE is the best film that he has seen in the last two decades). So what is it about this film that both loved and hated by so many people?
Set in the not-too-distant future after Japan fell into a state of collapse (which caused high-rates in unemployment, school walkouts and youth crimes), a class of high school students are kidnapped and taken to a deserted island where they are forced to enter an event that the government has created called the Battle Royale act. Inthis event the students must kill each other over the course of three days until there is only one student left alive, whoever is left standing will be allowed to go home. However if more than one student is still alive by the time the clock runs out, they all die. Once they are let loose on the island, the students start fighting each other to death until there is a winner.
There is a lot more to the plot than that but I decided to not reveal too much since I want to leave some surprises for those who haven’t seen it, but I think you would agree that after reading the plot summary you can definitely see what this film has been controversial for over a decade. However there is a lot more than just being an action film, it actually has something to say. Director Kinji Fukasaku has crafted a film that tackles some very interesting themes and ideas that makes the film much more thematically richer than most in the genre, while at same time making a disturbing, intense, darkly funny, gritty and completely insane violent action film. It could have been easily have been a mess but Fukasaku was able to balance it all well together. Fukasaku does a really great job with his direction, the fact that he was 70 years old at the time when he made this film just astonishes me (he stages better action scenes than most directors half his age). Plus he was backed by an extremely well written screenplay by his real life son Kenta Fukasaku.
The film’s ensemble cast do a great job in the their roles: Takeshi Kitano delivered the film’s stand-out performance as the brutal “Kitano”, the classes’ former teacher who is the ringleader behind the BR act. Also Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda both do a wonderful job in the lead roles of “Shuya” & “Noriko”. They have nice chemistry with each other and their characters are the film’s emotional centre. Taro Yamamoto does a great job as the classes’ new student “Kawada”, who has a mysterious past. Masanobu Ando and Kou Shibaski are both absolutely chilling as the villains “Mitsuko” and the quiet new transfer student “Kiriyama”. These two characters were complete utter psychopaths who enjoy the pleasure of killing their classmates without giving any mercy too any of them. Takashi Tsukamoto and Chiaki Kuriyama are also fine in their roles (Kuriyama is best known to western audiences as playing “Gogo Yubari” in KILL BILL: VOL. 1) and the rest of the young supporting cast were all solid as their fellow students. One of the things I really liked about the film was how well they developed the characters. We get to know most of the classes’ 42 students quite well even if they have only 5 minutes of screen time. Also another thing that interested me about the film was how each of the students react once they are in the game. It kind of frightening to see how that you can easily turn on your fellow classmates once you are put in a situation like Battle Royale. While some fall into that, other students try to join forces to help each other find a way out off the island. But once paranoia comes into it, who can you really trust. That’s what I think BATTLE ROYALE handles this elements superbly. The action scenes are well staged, the film is well paced, the violence is both over-the-top and hard-hitting and there are so many memorable moments.
Even though the version I reviewed was the Director’s Cut, I must admit that I can’t really tell you honestly whether the new footage they added to the film was great or not since it’s been 7 years since I saw the original Theatrical Cut. So I can’t really say what was different between the two cuts. From what I understand there is about at lest 8-10 minutes of new footage in the DC version. But there are a few things that I did noticed that I didn’t recall in the TC. The first one that comes to mind is the added CGI blood to the action scenes, which I have to admit looked rather terrible and fake. Plus there were some flashbacks and a couple of ‘epilogue’ scenes that I don’t think where necessarily needed to the film, but I can see why they put back into the DC as it gives some more added dimension to some of the characters. In terms of actual negatives, I wished the film explores more aspects of its story, particularly the state of Japan during that time. We keep hearing how bad the country had gotten after it’s collapse and how the youth were committing so many crimes but we never really get to see any of that. I think that if the filmmakers explored that further, it would have been a much more well-rounded film.
Overall BATTLE ROYALE is a pretty great film that definitely deserves it’s status as a cult classic among the film community. While the DC version is pretty strong, I have to admit I prefer the original TC a bit more. However if you a fan of BATTLE ROYALE, I would still definitely recommended everyone to check out the DC nonetheless. Also if you are those people who still hasn’t seen the film yet, you should definitely see it right away. It won’t be for everyone but it’s a great film that deserves to be seen.
The Australian DVD:
Audio/Video: The video is a 16:9 widescreen presentation. While the image was a little murky, the picture was still pretty good nonetheless. Audio is presented with Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1. The audio was terrific from beginning to end. Plus the film has English Subtitles for you’re viewing pleasure.
*The Making Of BATTLE ROYALE
*BATTLE ROYALE: A Documentary
*Instructional Video: Birthday Version
*Audition And Rehearsal Footage
*Special Effects Comparison
*Tokyo International Film Festival 2000
*Basketball Scene Rehearsals
*Behind The Scenes
*Filming On Set
*Special Edition TV Spot
*Special Edition TV Spot: Tarantino Version
If you loved BATTLE ROYALE, you’ll enjoy many features that are on here. The Making Of is great and its longest special feature with a running time of 50 minutes. It plays more like a fly-on-wall documentary as we see the cast and crew hard at work at making the film. The most interesting aspect is director Kinji Fukasaku, who comes off both hilarious and very intense when on the set.
The Documentary only runs for 10 minutes and it features mostly the cast talking about their characters and working on the film. The Instructional Video was pretty funny as it special one that was made specially by the crew for the director’s birthday. In the Audition And Rehearsal Footage, we all get to see Fukasaku working and rehearsing with this young cast on some scenes. Which was really good cause it gave us some insight into how the cast developed their performances with the director.
The Special Effects Comparison shows us how the special effects were made, which was really fascinating how they were able to create them. In the Tokyo International Film Festival 2000 segment, we see Fukasaku and cast attend the film’s world premiere at the festival. The Basketball Scene Rehearsals shows Fukasaku reuniting with his cast to rehearse and shoot a brand new scene of the character playing in a basketball for the Director’s Cut. Both Behind The Scenes and Filming On Set are more extra b-t-s footage of the film’s production.
We also get to two special TV spots that were used to promote the Director’s Cut (however in Japan, it was just known as the Special Edition). But the 2nd TV spot is the best one as it features director Quentin Tarantino, who briefly talks about his love for BATTLE ROYALE. Finally we get the film’s official Theatrical Trailer.
Overall Rating for the Director’s Cut edition:
Review written by Bede Jermyn
Thanks to Ben from MadMan for his support.