on 10 February 2003
I was excited when I heard about this film, apprehensive as to whether it would hold up to the good press it has received or just degenerate into another violence for kicks gore show. I was in for a shock. The film opens with a powerful introduction, dark, menacing and setting the tone of the film throughout. With teenagers behaviour crossing the line for the authorities action is taken in the form of a winner takes all competition. What initially appears to be a vague and outlandish plot with school children fighting for their lives, pitted against each other in a frantic tale of survival becomes a gripping and frightening tale of normal people pushed to far.
The films action sequences are many and varied, never loosing their originality or their power. The director produces an insightful cinematic production and a host of skilled young actors take challenging roles, which could have easily become farcical, and produce harrowing and realistic characters, each as engrossing as the others. The introduction of two unidentified characters (both outstanding performances) feel a little out of place early in the story but settle well as their backgrounds are developed.
Overall this is a violent and bloody story, it plot remains a step beyond the believable but this doesn't hamper the shocking and insightful nature of the piece. It will appeal to those who are looking simply for a fight flick with plenty of gore on show, but on another level it can become frightening, engrossing and truly original. To say any more about the plot would be to take away from the film; but if you can accept the violence necessary to the story line and like your pictures dark and sinister then this film is a must see. I look forwards to future works from the production team and actors alike. Excellent!
Battle Royale is first and foremost a movie that is likely to provoke a hate reaction in at least a fraction of the viewers. People who were disturbed by something like Festen: 10th Year Anniversary Edition [DVD] , Gozu [DVD]  or Oldboy [DVD]  might better skip BR, too. There is a reasonable amount of graphic violence, the prospects for a satisfying ending are grim at best, and the main premise is disturbing. However you will probably be doing yourself a disservice by not seeing it (if you can stomach violence, that is).
The movie shows a somewhat dystopian Japanese near future, where the teenagers increasingly turn into out of control little monsters. The heavy handed adult response is the Battle Royale act - packing off a randomly selected class of students onto a remote and deserted island, with the basic rule being that only one will leave the island alive after three days. The premise is chilling and will have you struggling with the implications and with what you would do in a similar situation. Again this probably only works if you are capable of suspending disbelief and placing yourself into such a position in the first place.
The reactions are of course mixed, as the different students of course have very different psychological make-ups and personal histories - you will get everything from mutual suicide, to gleeful sociopaths who revell in the revenge and killing, to people fighting for survival, not yet aware of the psychological consequences of their actions. In that sense I find the movie very well done, probably on a similar plane to Das Experiment [DVD] .
The actors and some of their motives are definitely realistic, as is their range of reactions to the killing (certainly on another plane than boycotting a class or slapping / cutting a teacher). The protagonists are also fairly convincing teenagers with the gripes and angsts of the age, and not actors in their late 20s, as could be expected in a more Hollywood style production. Some scenes, such as the hyper presenter, asking for attacking the task at hand with 'gusto' at the start of the film or the shooting in the lighthouse are likely to become classics in their own right.
Some have compared this to a more modern, Japanese version of A Clockwork Orange  [DVD] and while some comparisons can definitely be made between the two on the surface, I find that BR does not go quite as far as the latter; also it is much more focused on the 'what would you do in the situation' than the societal effects of teenage anarchy and the repression thereoff. I would certainly put it closer to something like Audition (Collector's Edition) [DVD]  for both effect, concepts and some of the execution.
Apart from the somewhat poor picture quality, the only potential gripe is the ending, which is less of a 'bang' and more of a potential intro for a sequel.
on 28 July 2002
When I first saw this film it was because my cousin jaz said it was a good film, I believed I was going to see another overrated film.
But this film proved me wrong, forget big brother this is what reality TV should be, directed by Kinji Fukasaki. The film centers around a futuristic Japan were the pupils have got so bad and out of control that once a year a class is chosen to take part in the 'Battle Royal'. A no holds barred contests were the only way to leave the island is to be the last one alive. So the pupils are giving food supplies and an assortment of weapons, they have 3 days to kill each other or their futuristic collars they wear will blow their heads off and so they are forced into mortal combat with friends and loved ones.
And so the begins a mass slaughter of pupils by pupils, but unlike most films the story had me griped and it dose make you real feel for the main cast even the psychos and the peace makers as well. The quality of the DVD was superb and the sound quality made the fight scenes sound very realistic, the special features include the normal commentary and a film trailer. Which for most Japanese films in the UK is like gold, other stuff includes Star and Director Filmographies, Stills Gallery and a
Asia Extreme Trailer Reel which shows off some pretty cool films. In all it is a very good film, which shows Hollywood how, it should be done and shows what a real horror film should be, bye it now.
on 4 August 2003
Simply put this is the most thought provoking movie I have ever seen, the acting is superb, the plot is almost perfect and it really make's you think "What If?", what if you were put in a situation where the only way you could survive is to kill your friend's and maybe even the person you secretly love?, we get to see this same question answered scene by bloody and emotional scene.
Some of the character's in this movie are really well thought out and acted to perfection and at time's make's you really feel for them, even the seemingly heartless Mitsuko has a tragic presence in the end especially with the added childhood flashback included in this special edition.
I dont want to give to much away so I'll leave it at this, it's basically a social satire mixed with a blood soaked shocker and even a tragic romance thrown in for good measure.
A must see that put's Hollywood to shame and I cant wait to get the book.
on 22 November 2003
With the sequel receiving it's first official screening in the UK on Saturday 1st November at the London Film Festival, I felt it was time to return to Kinji's original to fuel my lust for disturbing and shocking violence. The sequel has been saddened by the death of Kinji at the age of 73 from prostate cancer, who directed over 63 movies in his lifetime. Following his death, well respected publication 'The Economist' praised him for his life's work and its contribution to cinema, and deservedly so. Battle Royale 2 was completed by his son, and is scheduled for a theatrical UK release early in 2004.
Much controversy surrounded the filming of such a brutal tale and many companies refused to distribute it before Tartan Asia (known for their extreme tastes) snapped it up. Unfortunately, many cinemas refused to show the movie, but it has gained cult status since arriving on DVD. The director's cut version manages to be even more macabre and breathtaking than the theatrical version, whilst successfully fulfilling the needs of the sickest mind. That'll be me then.
It's the dawn of the new millennium and Japan is living on a knife-edge, ready to fall into anarchy and economical collapse at any moment. The young are spiralling out of control, whilst employment levels are at an all time low. As the youth skip school and abuse their teachers; the overwhelmed, exhausted and near-defeated government act, introducing the radical and extreme Battle Royale act.
The act dictates that one randomly selected school-class be sent to a deserted island, where they will fight to the death until one remains. The sole survivor is not a winner, but merely a rulebook personified that denotes just what lengths the Japanese government will go to curb the rising scale of Juveniles' disrespect for society.
I'm sure many viewers of Battle Royale simply overlooked the film as just another excuse to portray violence on the theatre-screen, but it goes much deeper than that. The film investigates a world that can certainly not be far away from our own, as we witness a decay in youth's respect for their elders. As well as this we watch the development of closed friendship groups as the kids refuse to trust their peers, and the way that the need for survival can overcome all of our usual emotions.
Battle Royale is a superb explosive film, which portrays a society in ruins, shocking many and opening our eyes to a youth culture that may not be so far away.
on 13 March 2004
When I first heard about this film I thought it sounded like a cool idea, if a little cliched these days, but after reading reviews all I expected was a pointless and purely escapist gore-fest. Though this is probably true to a certain extent, it doesn't really feel like a gory movie. There is a great deal of violence and death, but this is never really dwealt upon. People die, there names flash up on the screen, and we move on. Very little of the violent scenes are really gratuitous: there are only two characters who could really be seen as representing the mindless killing that we might expect from a film like this. One, however, we learn is not so much revelling in murder, as doing so to escape from the life she has been forced into. The other, the infamous Kiriyama, kills with apparent pleasure but without uttering a word. We never really know what we are thinking.
There are probably three reasons to watch this film, or at least three ways to view it. One is as a slickly written and filmed movie which bombards us with so many stories that we are unable really to predict what will happen, despite the many cliches thrown at us. This is the mature film-making of a mature film-maker, capable of keeping a film going without attempting to instil any overall message. The attempts of those characters we might expect the director to most sympathise with, those who attempt to rebel against the system (as I think the director did in his younger days) are thwarted by Kiriyama's dispassionate shooting spree, without the group ever really having a chance to carry out their plan.
The second reason is perhaps the multitude of characters and their reactions to the situation, which is quite explicitly established as a paradigm of real life, as Kitano tells Class B 'Life is a game. Now fight for srvival and see if you're worth it.' This is where the Lord of the Flies element comes in. No matter who a character is, their intentions will always be compromised by those of another. The characters are carried along by the system dying deaths as absurd and pointless as the game itself. The message is perhaps dark, but if you llike looking at the woorld in this kind of way, you'll enjoy the movie.
The third reason is no doubt the quality of the acting, with most of the characters played by school-age children. Its this that gives the movie its originality and subtlety. The relationships between characters seem as apprehensive and real as they would be in a real school situation. At the same time no character is a steretype; there are no jocks or geeks as such, and no time is spent lingering on past events which are proved now by the situation to be irrelevant.
I'm not sure this film can be classed a masterpiece, but at the same time is far more enjoyable than many films that would be, and not just in a guns 'n death kinda way. It's a beautiful, often subtle film, and though not exactly profound it makes no attempts to be so. If you're looking for gratuitous violence you might be disappointed. Suffering in this film is for the most part self-inflicted. This is a film about school-leavers fighting not only a world which despises them, but also a world which loves them.
on 7 March 2011
There was no way I was NOT going to like a Blu-Ray version of this masterpiece, but even so Arrow Videos absolutely wowed me with their considered and generous treatment of the Limited Edition release. Unfortunately even after the initial run of 5,000 copies was expanded to 10,000, the word is that they have run out. But don't panic! This 3 Disc Edition is nearly as comprehensive.
The packaging features a reversible sleeve, the video extras are numerous and non-filler, and the extra gifts ("Parents' Day" comic, collector's booklet, double-sided poster) are pretty good. The items you DON'T get are the second collector's booklet, the film stills, the numbered certificate (as this edition is not limited), and the fancy packaging. The actual VIDEO content of the three discs is the same as the Special Edition.
The Amazon product description actually does a good job of listing the content but the set specifications could be better. Specs are:
* Running time (theatrical) = 114 minutes;
* Running time (director's) = 122 minutes;
* Language/Subs = Japanese/English;
* Aspect Ratio = 1.85:1;
* Audio = DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 / Stereo;
* Disc Region B.
It's interesting to note that the subtitles for the Director's Cut have been entirely re-translated. This creates trivial semantic differences between many bits of dialogue in the two versions of the film, but puts an entirely new spin on a minority of other scenes. It's worth watching both films back-to-back to see how the feel of certain character interactions changes.
With regard to new footage, I don't want to spoil anything. But I will say the only additional parts which I thought added anything essential to the film were a flashback to Mitsuko's childhood (be assured it's as creepy as one might reasonably expect), and a re-telling of Noriko's dream in one of three "Requiems" at the end of the film. Having said that, nothing in the Director's Cut detracts from the film and I felt that it was a slightly superior cut.
With regards to the Blu-Ray quality, the sound is tremendous. The picture quality is pretty good and has scrubbed up well for a film of its age, especially considering that a lot of it was shot in the dark and the pouring rain, both of which create serious issues for cinematographers! I noticed that some of the killings have had blood-spatter digitally added - it's incredibly obvious but since most of the deaths were nowhere near as messy as they should have been it sort of helps. There are all sorts of rumours going around on the internet that this is an "up-scaled Standard Definition" version of the film. I've not seen anyone provide convincing evidence either way on that, and personally I found the picture quality to be excellent compared to the previous releases.
One scene in the Director's Cut sticks out as looking utterly un-restored; I'm not sure if they tried and failed or somehow missed it. When Mitsuko takes Hirono's gun after their confrontation in Megumi's shack, and Hirono turns to run, it is clearly obvious that the footage has not been touched. Doesn't really make much difference, it just sticks out like a sore thumb when the rest of the film has been polished to such a shine. Watching the theatrical cut the footage appears the same, so it's likely this was a scene that was somehow botched during the original production and for whatever reason could not be re-shot.
In conclusion, if you are any kind of a fan then you simply must buy this unique and epic film. If you can't find the utterly epic Limited Edition release anywhere, definitely buy this version. I am so glad I have these three amazing discs.
on 1 March 2002
Forget Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. This is the best film to ever come from the Far East. Ever. It's been banned in 4 countries, but it's not the sort of film that deserves that. No sexually explicit scenes, just extreme violence. Violence is seen in most modern films. Like so many good films, it can be viewed at two levels. The meaningful one, which delivers a hard-hitting harsh portrayal of how society can degenerate in the hands of a poor economy and inept government. This is an admirable and shocking film in that respect. I have to admit I was genuinely shocked when I first saw this film. If this doesn't appeal to you, it can be taken at token value as a hackfest of a film in which children kill each other in increasingly gory ways.
The truly great thing about this film is the way the children are portrayed. You see how they react differently and shockingly to the contest, by laughing it off until they cop a bullet in the ribs, or taking their own lives because they cannot face killing their friends, or forming gangs built on fragile trust that can be broken in a heartbeat. Truly shocking, yet riveting in a way that makes you unable to stop watching. It's acted by real children - not famous children bred on success. That really really adds to the films effect.
As I said, this film can be taken on two levels. I seriously suggest seeing it firstly as a shocking and realistic film. The emotive power of this film beats anything I have seen before.
Excellent. Get it.
on 15 March 2006
The Place: Japan. The Time: The not-so-distant-future. Faced with the prospect of losing control over the nation's young people, a totalitarian government decides upon a ruthless demonstration of power. The Battle Royale Act annually sends a randomly-selected class of highschool students to an uninhabited island where they are compelled to kill each other until only one of their number survives.
The reasoning behind this bizarre piece of legislation is perhaps the weakest part of the plot - but the Director deftly causes us to suspend disbelief by drawing us surely and touchingly into the feelings of the young cast. Unlike many western movies which trot out a body count of simplistic characters who are only there to die horribly for our entertainment, Battle Royale somehow manages to rapidly introduce us to the story's potential victims and make us care about them.
We are deliberately disoriented by blackly humorous elements - most notably the video taped instructions delivered by a relentlessly hyper female presenter; like a living cartoon character, she mockingly tells the children to think of her as their new big sister and urges them to ‘fight with gusto’. As the class is issued with their survival packs (containing food, water, a flashlight and a randomly-issued weapon which might be as deadly as a shotgun or as useless as a paper fan), we see them react in a variety of realistic ways - some are numbed with terror; some decline to kill; others rush outside and prepare to ambush their former friends.
You will read reviews that describe this film as excessively violent. I believe that this is a gross overstatement. Though there are many deaths and not a little blood, the main emphasis is upon simple human values - issues such as trust, friendship, love and hate - which the competition tests to their very limits. Children who have little genuine experience of living are forced to evaluate their relationships with each other if they want to stay alive. Alliances are formed and broken; long suppressed crushes and barely buried antagonisms influence their decisions.
There are no easy or mindless deaths in this film. The violent scenes make the point that violence and death are not cool or funny. This is not Kill Bill; every character in Battle Royale has value as a living, breathing human being. It may sound corny to say that the movie is an emotional rollercoaster ride, but it truly is - having dared to give us three dimensional people who bleed when they are cut, the Director sometimes dares to cruelly follow scenes of tragedy with jarring moments of biting, dark and sarcastic wit.
We are given subtle hints that the game is rigged and that the class has not really been 'chosen by impartial lottery'. The adults who manage the contest have hidden agendas; disconcertingly, their own behaviour does not make them good role models for the young 'delinquents' they are supposedly attempting to reform. Their leader - one of the students' former teachers - is revealed (like many of the S.S. men who ran the Nazi concentration camps) to be a failure in life outside the game. Uninspiring as a teacher and unloved and unrespected as a father, he receives such bitterly contemptuous 'phone calls from his own daughter that we almost feel pity for him. Yet, this emotionally-crippled man ultimately shows himself to be unexpectedly capable of an unconventional brand of compassion.
If this was an American movie, the class would be played by people in their twenties and thirties. Two or three of the students would be given a lot of screen time and the rest would be faceless cannon fodder. Five seconds after the opening titles, you would know who was going to survive. Despite its odd premise, Battle Royale seems closer to reality because its teenagers really are teenagers and it allows no comforting certainties about who lives or dies.
The true genius of Battle Royale lies in the ensemble playing of the entire cast. Although young, not one of them strikes a dud note and the script gives almost all of the students a chance to shine at some point. The fight scenes are not staged in the style of 'Enter The Dragon' - the kids are not weapons experts or Karate champions. We see them kill each other but we are not invited to hate them - they are, after all, children. They are scared and desperate.
Some reviewers have criticised aspects of the dialogue as unrealistic. There are certainly times when the script seems stagey - but it is important to remember that these Japanese children are products of a national culture which often finds the expression of passionate emotions problematical. If anything, the formal phrasing and awkwardness of their most heartfelt expressions only serves to make them more meaningful.
The Special Edition ends (quite literally) with a question. You will find yourself going back to this movie time and time again to answer it. Each viewing is rewarded with details that you probably missed previously - the depth of characterisation and the layers of hidden-in-plain-sight clues continually allow you to understand the story from fresh perspectives.
on 12 December 2001
I saw this at the cinema on its limited release in the uk and it is definitely worth adding to any DVD collection that has a leaning toward violent, stylish cult films.
I won't give away too much about the plot as it is best to see this film with no idea of what is going to happen, then spend two hours staring at the screen with a rabbit in the headlights expression on your face.
The film is fetishistic to say the least - frilly dressed schoolgirls, big weapons and lots of really shocking violence - and has a cast that you won't struggle to imagine in animated manga form. The plot moves along at a fair old lick and leaves you feeling satisfied but a little dirty.
It's a great film that's real fun to watch with a group of mates because you'll probably want to share your amazement with someone when it's all over. In fact if it looks like you are going to be on your own when you watch it for the first time, go out into the street and drag someone in to share the Battle Royale experience with you or, I guarantee, you'll be on the phone as soon as those final credits role.