Battle Royale DVD Review
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Writen by Kenta Fukasuka
2001, Region 0 (NTSC), 113 Minutes, Unrated
DVD released on November 1st, 2002
Tatsuya Fujiwara as Shuya
Aki Maeda as Noriko
Taro Yamamoto as Shougo
Masanobu Ando as Kazou
Kou Shibasaki as Mitsuko
Chiaki Kuriyama as Takako
Here is a question to ponder: If you were put on an island with all of your closest friends, and were told that you had to kill them all or die, could you do it? Of course, everyone says they would, but think about it for a moment. Could you really look your best friend or girlfriend in the eye and kill them with a knife or gun for no reason, without hatred? Would they do it to you?
Such is the scenario setup in Battle Royale, a very controversial movie release in Japan. It is the start of the new Millennium, and Japan is out of control. The overpopulation is increasing rapidly and school children are on a downward spiral of violence. As a result, the Japanese government has created the Battle Royale Act in an attempt to control the population and keep the children in line. Once a year, one of the worst 9th grade classes are taken to a remote island off of Japan under the guise of a school trip. Once there, they are told of their situation, and are explained the rules of the Battle Royale. Each child is fitted with a necklace containing a small bomb (similar to the one in The Running Man) and a backpack containing food, water, a map, and a random weapon or object (anything from an Uzi to a trash can lid). They are then sent out onto the island in random order. At this point, they have three days to get down to one survivor otherwise all of the necklace bombs go off and there is no winner. Anything is game.
Battle Royale is a violent, harsh movie. There is something extremely uncomfortable and saddening about watching these children slaughtering each other out of sheer survival instinct. However, it is also very realistic in its portrayal of how people may react in this type of situation. While it may seem like it is a violent, action packed movie (and it absolutely is), it is also a very character driven movie. Seeing how some of these people react to the situation around them is just as central to the movie as the violence is. Each person reacts to the events around them in a very realistic manner. Remember the girl who stole your boyfriend? What better way to get revenge than to kill her? What about the girl you had a crush on? It’s the last day left, and only one of you can live. What have you got to lose? The group of friends you always hang out with? They would be great backup as a small gang, but how long before they turn on you? These and other questions are explored and answered in gritty, realistic ways.
It is also worth mentioning that since the movie is set on a remote island, the scenery and cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking. The director makes great use of the island, showing us vast expanses of grasslands down to dirty, jungle-like foliage. There are also small buildings scattered around the island that really appear to have been abandoned for years. Overall, the setting is one of great beauty and dread.
This is one of the most powerful movies that I have ever seen. I would almost consider this a mandatory movie to watch even if you are not interested in the subject matter. Everything about this movie is top notch, from the directing down to even the casting of the smallest of bit players. The pacing is perfect, the cinematography is gorgeous, and there are enough twists and turns to keep you riveted throughout. This movie feels like a true labor of love, and it shows.
Video and Audio:
For this review I am using the newly remastered Region 0 version of the DVD. The picture is crystal clear, without any scratches or blemishes on the print. Black levels are very dark, but clear, without any type of bleeding. The picture overall is very sharp. Colors are vibrant and I did not notice any artifacting or edge enhancement at all on the picture. It is presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. (Note: The box claims that it is Progressive Scan PAL format, however, it is NTSC.)
A very nice mix is presented in 5.1 Digital sound. The Japanese dialogue is clear, and LF sound in some of the scenes will definitely give your subwoofer a workout. With the exception of the music, the surrounds are not used very frequently, so I had to drop the score a little, but overall it is one of the cleaner mixes out there.
The translators did an excellent job with the subtitles on this disc. They are easy to read and on the screen long enough. This is one of the better subtitling jobs out there. I did not see any spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall, and the dialogue was very easy to follow. My understanding is that on the original release of this movie the subtitles were burned onto the film, making them very hard to read. That is not so on this release.
This is about the only place where Tartan dropped the ball. Included are a trailer, some stills, and filmographies for four people (out of a cast of 40 plus). There is a Two-Disc Deluxe Edition coming out soon that will contain a large amount of extras, but there still could have been much more on this disc.
Excellent cinematography, a great cast and a very controversial subject matter make this movie a must-see. I cannot stress how great a movie this is. Overall, this is one of the most entertaining and powerful films I have seen in a long time. It is a real shame that no distributors have picked this up for the U.S.A. The only reason I am not giving this a 5/5 is because of the lack of extras included on the disc. However, there is a two-disc special edition coming out later this month. It will include additional footage and a wealth of extras. If you have not picked this film up yet, then that will be the version to pick up. Even if you have a current version of the movie, then you may want to look into upgrading when it is available. I will update this review when the new special edition comes out to give my impressions of that version.
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