In 2000, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale hit like a cultural bomb. Adapted from the popular novel by Koushun Takami, the film managed to be scathing social criticism, teen melodrama and ultraviolent thriller all wrapped up in one. Its timing being so close to the Columbine massacre hamstrung its potential for a Stateside release, but it was a smash hit in its home territory has gone on to be one of the biggest cult films of the 21st century.
Ten years on, Arrow Video has released a brand new edition of the film, spread over three DVDs and including redone transfers of both the original theatrical cut and the ‘special edition’ cut that adds a bit of CGI blood and uses additional footage shot six months after the main shoot. It is an impressive package of a film that is definitely worthy of the treatment.
The set-up is classic exploitation film fodder. Every year, as an example to youth delinquency, a random school class is chosen to take part in the annual Battle Royale. The class of 42 pupils are sent to a deserted island, armed, and left for three days. Last child standing…gets to live.
Amongst the students is the reluctant Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Death Note Fujiwara) and the girl he likes, Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda). Together they have to find a way out of the situation without being killed – or killing each other.
What elevates Battle Royale beyond its lurid premise is the way the children stay steadfastedly children throughout. They worry about friendships and who they have a crush on, who is cool and who is not, even in the face of impending annihilation. Because for teenagers, of course, these issues are as important as life or death.
The story often breaks into vignettes following specific characters, be it the returning survivor Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) who may or may not know a way off the island, abuse survivor turned murderess Mitsuko (One Missed Call Ko Shibasaki), rebel boy genius Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) or the homicidal Kuriyama (Masanobu Ando). Also among the cast is Chiaki Kuriyama, playing defiant track star Chigusa, the role that won her the part of Go-Go Yubari in Kill Bill.
Each of these stories-within-a-story showcase tragedy and the effect of social pressures on the young. The disassociation between youth and adults (here personified by Takeshi Kitano, playing the former teacher of the class) is a prevalent theme. Adults do not understand the young and children do not trust their elders. It is a gulf that the film paints as being potentially destructive for society.
Directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku in his 60th film at the helm, Battle Royale also contains some terrific set-pieces, from the massacre of distrust in the lighthouse to the showdown between Kuriyama and Kawada amongst the flames. If the film does spiral into heavy-handed melodrama at times – particularly at the end – this is a minor complaint to stack up against the power on display elsewhere.
Ferocious, deceptively clever and above all – entertaining, Battle Royale remains one hell of a film.
This new release feels pretty definitive, with extras ranging from video of stage appearances and press conferences through to footage of the score being recorded with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra. Some excellent ‘making of’ material is present, often of a candid nature that is considerably more revealing than the usual Hollywood electronic press kit type of material. A comprehensive package.
- The Making of Battle Royale: The Experience of 42 High School Students
- Conducting Battle Royale with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra
- Takeish Kitano Interview
- The Correct Way to Make Battle Royale (Birthday Version)
- Tokyo International Film Festival Presentation
- Opening Day at Maro No Uchi Toei Movie Theatre
- The Slaughter of 42 High School Students
- Premiere Press Conference
- The Correct Way to Fight in Battle Royale
- Royale Rehearsals
- Masamichi Amano Conducts Battle Royale
- Special Effects Comparison
- Behind the Scenes Featurette
- Filming on Set
- 32-page comic
- 36-page booklet of essays
- 16-page concept art booklet
Battle Royal is available on R2 DVD from Arrow Films.