BATTLE ROYALESPECIAL EDITION DIRECTOR'S CUT DVD | Oct 18, 2003
Note: While many people believe this film to be banned in America due to its "excessively violent" nature, the actual reason for its absence from American markets is due to the fact Toei, the film company behind Battle Royale, refuses to have BR distributed in America at any cost. Unfortunately this means the film will never be released here in America.
I've been a big fan of Battle Royale since I first saw its theatrical cut on VCD a few years back. Because of my fondness for the film, it is an impossible one for me to review objectively. It is also a film that can only be done justice through a lengthy film analysis. With that in mind, I will try my best to provide you with a brief overview in hopes you venture to check it out for yourself, and form your own opinions from there.
Battle Royale is based on the novel of the same name, by Koushun Takami. Basically the story is that in the near future of Japan, adults have tired of the laziness and insubordination so prevalent in the youth today and have passed the ominous sounding BR Act (Battle Royale, not Banana Republic). In order to deal with and weed out such disciplinary problems, the government has taken upon itself the duty of kidnapping whole classes of kids, dumping them on an island and forcing them to kill each other off over the course of three days. If they fail to have a last man standing, the game will be forfeit, and everyone killed. As long as there is a winner, the last person alive will be allowed to go home and be accepted by the populace as a productive member of society. With that kind of incentive in place, bonds formed through years of trust and mutual respect are instantly severed as best friend kills best friend in order to survive. What you have here is sort of a cross of Lord of the Flies and Terminal Island with The Running Man and The Long Walk. It’s a very violent, unapologetically cynical film dealing with the ephemeral quality of most bonds of “friendship”, but oddly enough at the same time displays an amazing amount of intelligence, hope, and heart, as realized in the two nonviolent, strong willed protagonists, Shuya and Noriko. (Note: Oddly enough the amazingly passive character Shuya becomes a Terrorist leader in the sequel. Talk about raping the integrity of a main character.) One can safely say, this is most definitely not your run of the mill action film.
There are only a few classmates aside from Shuya and Noriko that are truly fleshed out. Most characters just fit into the stereotypical cute girl, mean bully, techno-nerd, and other assorted high school roles, but strangely, it actually helps the film. It is much easier to introduce a character whose stereotypical category is instantly recognizable to us if that character is going to be killed within the next five minutes. From cliques of popular girls that turn on each other, to jock girls, bullied nerds and beautiful rejects exacting revenge on their opressors, to “pep squad” members that try to convince everyone to work together, computer nerds attempting MacGyver-like solutions to the problem, to the two killers just in the game for the fun of it; oversimplification, coupled with unusually strong performances, help the stable of characters attain an often unreachable realm of believability. It’s impossible to not care for Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda as Shuya and Noriko. Likewise, the beautiful Kou Shibasaki (Mitsuko) is delightfully menacing. However, the true star of the film is Beat Takeshi, playing Kitano, the ex teacher turned warden of the class in question. He totally shines in this film. Every quip, action, and facial expression is so endearing and hilarious you can’t help but love him.
Needless to say, there are a few differences in the Director’s Cut from the theatrical version. You have a few more violent scenes, some added back-story for Mitsuko’s character, and some background on Shuya and his friend Nobu, but on the whole, most of the added footage is comprised of sappy flashbacks that really detract from the pacing of the film. Following the ending to the old film are three “requiem” sequences that seem to have been translated with nothing better than a BabelFish style language tool. It’s bad enough the film goes on for a completely unnecessary extra 5 minutes, but once the characters start babbling in a Yoda-speak, the laughter bubbles up and you're brought completely out of the story, robbing the film of the emotional impact of its original release. While I understand the fact if a competent translator translated the last few scenes it might not feel as awkward, it doesn’t change their sappy soap operatic quality, or the fact they seem slapped on as an afterthought. At least the kickass song, Shizukana Hibi No Kaidan Wo, by Dragon Ash rocks the house in 5.1 DTS during the credits. I’d have to say, as with Blade Runner this is a case where the Director’s Cut is just not quite as cool.
As far as special features go, the disc is completely packed. Too bad there are only subtitles in Korean. Some features, like the trailers (featuring Quentin Tarantino) and the special effects deconstruction sequences (I never actually noticed the use of CG in this film) need no translation, but if you’re interested in the making of specials I’m afraid you’ll have to learn Japanese. But at the same time you’re buying this disc for one hell of a kickass movie, so who gives a crap if you can’t understand the special features?
Do yourself a favor. Hop over to eBay, find a respectable seller, and order yourself a copy of Battle Royale. As long as you make sure it’s a Region 0 special edition, you should be totally set. Although extremely violent, it is amazingly thought provoking film. This is one ride no genre fan should miss.