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December 12, 2012
Battle Royale: Director's Cut Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
20/3/200315/8/2012MadmanKinji Fukasaku
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4Japanese Dolby TrueHD 7.1R18+Beat Takeshi

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The winner of the previous Battle Royale!

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.

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Battle Royale contains considerable violence.
There's no denying that subject matter in this film is certain to stir controversy - and indeed it wasn't released in America until a decade after the December 2000 Japanese release (possibly as film companies wouldn't distribute it following the Columbine High School massacre, or perhaps as the Japanese Studio Toei wanted more money than an American studio was willing to gamble). Having a group of over 40 teenage students killing each other with a kama (similar to a scythe), machine gun, taser, crossbows or poison isn't exactly easy to promote as a film. It's also rather graphic too with plenty of blood spatter and gore on occasion - hence why the film has been slapped with an R18+ rating here in Australia.

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.

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Some of the students don't even make it into the game!
For us, the highlight of this film was the performance form Beat Takeshi Kitano (who many may know from the TV series Takeshi's Castle, or the film Zatoichi). As the ex-teacher of the students put into the game it's clear he is quite a disturbed person, but killing students seems to have absolutely no impact on him at all. The way he cheerfully claps and comments to the instructional video is superb, as is his commentary to the players during the 3-day life or death struggle.

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.

Battle Royale is presented on Blu-Ray with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio using the AVC MPEG-4 codec and it's a bit of a mixed bag. It's certainly not a fault of the transfer with the video given ample room to shine with a bitrate often well over 30Mbps, but rather the source material with many scenes shot in darker, poorly lit locations. At times, close-ups of faces look superb with plenty of fine detail, while at other times, including an early shooting sequence that takes place on the rocks by the seaside, the image is dark and hard to see the fine detail.

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.

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Poison is just as effective as a gun!
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.

Upon starting the Blu-Ray, and following the legal mumbo jumbo, you will be presented with a HD trailers for Redline (1:35), and First Squad: The Moment of Truth (1:52). In America Anchor Bay released this film as a double pack with the sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem. Given the horrific reviews of the 2003 sequel (it only averages 4.7/10 on IMDB), we don't seem to be missing out on too much in that regard. Fortunately though we do get the much more important second disc (a DVD) which includes a swag of extras such as...

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.

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It's like The Hunger Games, but violent.
Battle Royale Documentary (12:09): This is a more traditional EPK styled documentary that isn't a patch on the Making of Feature, but does offer some additional interviews with cast.

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.

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Battle Royale is a fantastic film.
Special Edition TV Spot (0:31): It's the Japanese TV spot for the Special Edition.

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).

There's no doubt that the subject matter contained within Battle Royale will turn many people off this film, but for those looking for an adult version of The Hunger Games you would do well to check this out.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Madman. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.