Believe it or not, I’d never seen Battle Royale (Batoru rowaiaru), a 2000 Japanese feature based on the 1999 novel by Koshun Takami, directed by Kinji Fukasaku, set in the near future in which the Japanese economy is nearing collapse and the country’s youth are out of control, boycotting school and when they do go they abuse their teachers.
Disheartened and seeing no other alternatives, the government takes drastic measures and initiates the Battle Royale Act, wherein a random class of schoolchildren is selected and their field trip takes a dramatically different turn than expected. Gassed during the drive, when their bus finally stops they find themselves on a deserted island preparing for battle, against one another. In the case of Battle Royale, this film follows 42 children of one particular ninth grade class as they are pitted against one another in a battle to the death in which there can be only one survivor.
Wearing an explosive device around their neck that tracks their every move and given a randomly selected pack of survival equipment that can include anything from a crossbow, to a gun, to a GPS device to a pot lid they make for the wilds of the island, hoping to outlive and kill their classmates.
The result is a bloody battle for survival and despite reports the film was banned in the United States, it just never happened to receive distribution. It has been available on imported DVDs for some time, but will now get a fresh, new and official DVD and Blu-ray release courtesy of Anchor Bay Home Entertainment, clearly as an effort to build off the forth-coming release of The Hunger Games, which bears striking similarities in many ways.
Without having ever seen Battle Royale, even I was fully aware of what it was about and after reading Suzanne Collins‘ “The Hunger Games” trilogy even I was able to come up with the story similarities. Then, after watching it, the similarities were so striking it’s impossible to ignore. She had to have been, at the very least, inspired by the film and/or the original novel… right?
Collins set “The Hunger Games” story in a future in which North America is in total shambles and there are differences in reasoning between The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, but nevertheless, both are competitions initiated by the government using randomly selected kids and forcing them to fight to the death. In Collins’ novel, once the Games begin it essentially becomes Battle Royale with a few twists here and there, such as the ability for the combatants to receive gifts from those watching the Games on television, but even this small difference can find moments in Battle Royale that inspired such ideas. Yet, Collins maintains a completely different route to arriving at her story.
In an April 2011 piece at the New York Times it reads:
Collins has said that the premise for “The Hunger Games” came to her one evening when she was channel-surfing and flipped from a reality-television competition to footage from the war in Iraq. An overt critique of violence, the series makes warfare deeply personal, forcing readers to contemplate their own roles as desensitized voyeurs.
As for whether she’s ever seen or read “Battle Royale” she responds, “I had never heard of that book or that author until my book was turned in. At that point, it was mentioned to me, and I asked my editor if I should read it. He said: ‘No, I don’t want that world in your head. Just continue with what you’re doing.'” The piece goes on to say that she still has yet to read the book or see the movie.
Battle Royale does speak larger to a fear of unruly youths compared to The Hunger Games, which comes across more as a tale of repression and lower class uprising. And the fact of the matter is, whether Collins has seen, read or even heard of Battle Royale is inconsequential at this point, and the two may in fact make for decent companion pieces, with Battle Royale certainly appealing to the more blood-hungry audiences.
Before the battle even begins, a girl receives a knife to her head (as you can see for yourself in the clip to the right) and another student sees what happens when the jewelry around his neck is detonated, leaving a gaping, blood-spraying hole where his Adam’s apple used to be, all courtesy of the children’s teacher, Kitano, played by the always entertaining Takeshi Kitano.
For anyone that’s read “The Hunger Games” and would prefer an R-rated version, this is it and from what I understand this “Extended Cut” is even bloodier than the theatrical, but perhaps to a fault.
There is plenty of CG blood splatter here and from reading around on the different cuts of the film, the requiems at the end of the film as well as a flashback to a basketball game throughout the movie are not included in the original theatrical cut, which is available along with Battle Royale II: Requiem in a box set (buy that here) that is also being released the same day as this single disc edition of Battle Royale.
The single disc, however, only includes the extended cut and not the theatrical. Along with all three films, the box set also includes a fourth disc, though, which includes a bounty of extras if that’s what you’re looking for. Again, you can get more information on the box set here.
As for this single-disc edition, the high definition transfer is decent, but I can’t say I was ever overwhelmed by this films visuals as the content of Battle Royale is really the stand out aspect. To watch it in HD is probably a better presentation than on standard definition DVD, but I can’t say I saw anything that places it in the upper echelon. The audio, with a 7.1 TrueHD track, is the Blu-ray’s shining inclusion.
Overall, if you’re reading this review at all I think you owe it to yourself to check this movie out and especially if you’re looking forward to The Hunger Games. While Collins may protest that she’d never heard of this film or its source material, once you’ve seen this movie I’m sure you’ll have your doubts. As to which one is better, you’ll have to watch both to ever truly know.