Throw out your Region 3 imports and your Korean bootlegs. On March 20, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale at last receives a proper North American release from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Available in a DVD or a 3-disc Blu-ray plus bonus DVD version, this four disc set collects both the Theatrical and Director’s Cuts of Battle Royale (2000) as well as its sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem (2003), along with more than two hours of special features.
Since its release in 2000, Battle Royale, adapted from the novel by Koushun Takami, has taken considerable flak from civic groups and concerned parents worldwide at the same time as it garnered a well-deserved cult following. The simple premise finds a ninth-grade class thrown on an island and forced to battle to the death in a Battle Royale as part of Japan’s BR Act, meant to protect adults from the nation’s increasingly dissident youth. The film succeeds not through incredible depictions of teenagers committing terrible acts of violence (although it has plenty of that), but through its characters, their dreams, their desires, and the various ways in which they react to their imminent deaths. The experience of Battle Royale is ultimately an intensely emotional one.
Whilst I personally adore Battle Royale, I would hardly describe it as a perfect film, in either its Theatrical Cut or the Director’s Cut/Special Edition. Structurally, the film strays rather needlessly at times into the avant garde as the dying/dead students’ inner lamentations become heavy-handed onscreen text. What’s more, the film’s narrative logic certainly has more than its fair share of holes. Namely, I can’t help but wonder every time I watch the film how the students don’t know about the BR Act at the outset, given the media frenzy that meets the previous year’s winner of Battle Royale. Additionally, I find it hard to believe that no adult had ever even mentioned or threatened these youths with Battle Royale. We must accept the flaw, however, because really, the film needs to have the Battle Royale explained to the students so that the audience, in turn, can learn the rules. While the film may rely on a number of contrivances in order to tell its tale, the rich emotionality of the film makes viewers apt to forgive it these faults entirely.
Although I consider the Theatrical Cut a great film despite its shortcomings, I find the Director’s Cut almost entirely unbearable, even though it’s not all that different. Two distinct differences characterize this cut. First, the filmmakers inserted a dream sequence and a flashback to a basketball game. These do not detract from the film as such. However, after the film’s conclusion, the filmmakers include a series of “Requiems” which unnecessarily pad out the end of the film about 20 minutes. This would be fine were these requiems to provide the audience with any information it did not already possess, but they merely include uncut flashbacks and dream sequences needlessly isolated from the film proper. To what end? I don’t know.
Battle Royale II makes absolutely no sense and is exponentially more illogical than its predecessor. There is no actual Battle Royale, the kids STILL don’t know about the BR Act even though it was implemented at least six years earlier, there’s some muddled anti-American theme tacked on incoherently, and, I swear, lengthy, whiny monologues comprise at least half the film’s running time. It possesses absolutely none of the first film’s appeal. And even though the film’s setup, in which a previous Battle Royale survivor returns as the head of an anti-adult terrorist organization, has a lot of promise, this serves only as a catalyst for the filmmakers to remove the Battle Royale itself from the proceedings. It’s such a mess that there aren’t even any special features dedicated to it on the Bonus Special Features DVD.
So if two of the four discs aren’t worth watching, why not simply buy the concurrently released standalone Blu-ray or DVD of Battle Royale from Anchor Bay? Because it only includes the Director’s Cut, that’s why! Moreover, it contains no special features so far as I can tell, and the packaging is nowhere near as exciting as the Complete Collection’s high-end presentation. The Complete Collection comes in a fully-illustrated, hardcover, yearbook-style package with the discs themselves housed in the yearbook’s cardboard pages. It’s certainly one of the most impressive sets I’ve encountered in recent memory.
Special features in the Battle Royale: The Complete Collection includes:
• The Making of Battle Royale
• Battle Royale Press Conference
• Instructional Video: Birthday Version
• 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
• TV Spot: Tarantino Version