Battle Royale – and its sequel, Battle Royale II – are among the most brutally beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. The original film is about a class of junior high school students are dumped on a deserted island and forced to kill each other off; the sequel, finds another ninth grade class being forced to attack the survivors of the first film – who have declared war on the adults responsible for the Battle Royale law.
Previously available in North America only in bootleg editions with dodgy subtitles, or very basic releases, these two films have a four-disc DVD release that comes with both the original theatrical release of the first film and the Special Edition that followed, the second film, and over two hours of bonus features.
In Battle Royale, the premise is that Japan, as a country, has completely gone to pot and the youth are even more rebellious than at any other time in history, so the government created the Battle Royale Act that mandated the random selection of a junior high school class to be taken to a secluded area – like, say, a deserted island – and forced to kill each other until only one was left.
Each kid is given a survival kit that includes, with the standard survival stuff, a weapon – but the definition of weapon is somewhat fluid [guns, knives, a crossbow, binoculars, a stock pot lid…] – and sent off. Necklace bombs are sealed around each student’s neck to prevent them from trying to escape.
The three-day murder marathon is overseen by Kitano [Beat Takeshi], the class’ taciturn former teacher [they had him for seventh grade], and he seems to take some small delight in being the one to oversee the carnage.
There are details – like the cheerful orientation video; the creation of ‘danger zones’ in which the necklace bombs will go off automatically, and the periodic announcement of who has died in the last while – that will seem familiar to readers of The Hunger Games, though the film’s carnage would likely warrant a restricted rating here.
In Battle Royale II, the unlucky ninth-grade class has to assault the island where the survivors of the first film have set up a rebel base for their army of kids who oppose the government’s Battle Royale Act.
The overseer of this class is Takeuchi [Riki Takeuichi], the class’ oddly enthusiastic teacher whose seemingly clichéd bully has a dark secret. He introduces the new Battle Royale II Act – besides the change in target, there is also a rule about the class being paired off and when one dies, the other’s necklace automatically explodes – and seems to take some delight in putting this class through hell.
The first movie was based on the Japanese novel of the same title, by Koushon Takami, and both were scripted by Kenta Fukasaku. Both films were directed by Kinji Fukasaku, who previous works run the gamut from the Japanese sequences of Tora! Tora! Tora! To The Green Slime, to Legend of Eight Samurai.
Both films are filled with social and political commentary – everything from school cliques to reality TV to politics and the generation gap are fair game for Fukasaku, though the first film is by far the better at skewering them.
What makes Battle Royale brilliant, though, is that in between the bouts of bloody/gory violence, we are continually reminded that these are children. One girl’s dying words are ‘I never had a boyfriend,’ for example, while one boy is killed by the girl on whom he has had a crush forever – and he was coming to help her!
Both films are handsomely mounted – each is beautifully shot, yet without making the violence something to cheer about. Battle Royale is the faster paced and has much better overall character development, though with so many characters, only a handful are truly well drawn.
Battle Royale II suffers from its premise – the survivors of the Battle Royale are already sympathetic characters, while many of the press-ganged ninth grade class are much less so – with the exception of a transfer student who has a cool tie-in to the first film and one or two others. The whole idea of children killing children is taken to an even darker – and not nearly as successful – place.
BRII also suffers from a false ending that leads to an utterly improbable [even for these movies] clichéd tag that almost completely undermines the preceding two hours.
The Special Edition of Battle Royale adds several minutes of both action and character beats and succeeds in giving us more without diluting the impact of the original theatrical release.
Features include some of the usual suspects – auditions, trailers, TV spots, and behind the scenes featurettes – as well as some pretty spiffy oddities [a Quentin Tarantino TV Spot, The Instructional Video: Birthday Edition].
Overall, Battle Royale: The Complete Collection is one very cool DVD set.
Features: The Making of Battle Royale; Battle Royale Press Conference; Instructional Video: Birthday Edition; Audition & Rehearsal Footage; Special Effects Comparison Featurette; Tokyo International Film Festival 2000; Battle Royale Documentary; Basketball Scene Rehearsals; Behind-The-Scenes Featurette; Filming On-Set; Original Theatrical Trailer; Special Edition TV Spot, and TV spot: Quentin Tarantino Version
Grade: Battle Royale: Special Edition – A
Grade: Battle Royal – A
Grade: Battle Royale II – C
Grade: Features – B+
Final Grade: B+