Plot: What’s it about?
I’ll be honest. Until Battle Royale showed up on my doorstep, I’d never really heard of it. Well, I’d heard of the title of the movie, but never really knew what it was about. I’d like to think that since the debut of The Hunger Games and all of the hoopla surrounding it, Battle Royale has resurfaced (and with good reason). I’ll attempt to do the review of both this and its sequel without any spoilers, but it might be a cumbersome. I suppose I’ll start by saying that I’m not really, nor really have ever been, a fan of Asian cinema. There’s a Korean movie called The Host, that I put among my favorites and I suppose I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw Godzilla in there as well. Hopefully that doesn’t make me sound like some sort of elitist “I only watch American films” snob. I’m sure it comes off that way. Probably the best way to enter this movie is to go into it knowing as little as possible. I’ll also assume that most of us haven’t read the novel by Kōshun Takami. If so, you’re way ahead of me. Let’s dive in, shall we?
A group of ninth grade students are on what they believe to be a field trip. Everything is normal until the bus is infused with gas and the students pass out. They awaken in a room surrounded by armed guards and are informed by a former teacher that they’re now part of the Battle Royale. The ultimate goal of the “game” (if you can call it that) is fairly simple: the last person standing wins. The students must literally kill one another off over the next several days using whatever means possible. To eliminate them from hiding out in some remote cave, they’ve each been given an explosive collar to wear. Twice each day new “zones” will become off limits and anyone in that zone still wearing their collar will find themselves without a head. And, just like that, the game is on.
I’ll avoid revealing anything further about the plot as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. Suffice it to say that if you’ve ever wanted to see the most extreme version of Survivor possible, this is most likely it. Battle Royale shocked audiences and became one of the highest-grossing films in Japanese cinema. Based on the book by Kōshun Takami, it glorified violence and pit kids against one another. It’s been eleven years since the film came out and though I’ve seen some pretty graphic films, the thing here is the situation. Violence-wise, it’s not too horribly graphic (the Director’s Cut features some additional CGI blood that borders on comical) but when you consider that it’s 13 year-olds doing these things to one another – it’s a bit unsettling. Put it this way, if you’re at all into The Hunger Games, this is a good place to start and while not a carbon copy of one another, there are some distinct similarities.
Battle Royale: Requiem
If you’re still unspoiled by the first movie then it’s next to impossible to review its sequel without giving a few things away (hence the orange “Warning!” bar above this text). Battle Royale II: Requiem came out in 2003 after the initial had shocked audiences and garnered international praise. No one had ever seen anything quite like the first movie and there was a reasonable demand for more. Director Kinji Fukasaku, known for his segment in Tora!Tora!Tora! (and countless other films) died very early on during the shoot. It was clear that this sequel wouldn’t live up to the expectations placed upon it. His son, Kenta Fukasaku, took the reins after his father’s passing and completed the film. Audiences had already been shocked and enamored by the original, so what more would this franchise have in store?
The “winners” of the first Battle Royale were now wanted criminals and murderers. After winning the game, they were promised that they could go back to their lives and live normally (or as normally as one could knowing all of your classmates were killed at your hands). This was a lie. A terrorist group called the “Wild Seven” are making waves in Japan. The thing is that the members of this organization were previous winners of other Battle Royale games. They bomb buildings and kill needlessly. As a result of this, the Millenniu Anti-Terrorist Act (Battle Royale II) has been enacted. It’s now up to a class of students to take out the Wild Seven. However unlike the previous installments, their job isn’t to take one another out – rather it’s to take out Shuya Nanahara.
The premise behind this sequel isn’t what’s lacking. Given that U.S. audiences have seen the Saw and Final Destination films on so many occasions (they’re all essentially the same movie), it would stand to reason that this would work. It didn’t. Too many of the rules established in the first one were broken and common logic simply doesn’t prevail. You’ve a lot more sympathy for kids being forced to kill one another, but less when those kids start dying because they’re killed by terrorists. Everything is off here. The plot, the pacing and even the acting is sub-par when compared to the first. Truthfully the only redeeming quality that this possesses is that it’s connected to the first. True fans might get somewhat of a kick out of this film, but it’ll never have the emotional or artistic value of the original.
Video: How does it look?
Both films leave a bit to be desired in regard to video quality. The 1.78:1 AVC HD images don’t look bad by any means, but to me they looked a bit on the bright side. Granted the subject matter might make seem the image seem a bit darker than it really was. Having never seen the films, I really had no basis for comparison. The image seemed sharp and didn’t have any sort of artifacting or edge enhancement, though I did notice some slight banding in a few areas. Contrast is a bit off and some of the black levels seemed to be a bit on the spotty side as well. Some of the “darker than darks” weren’t really that. Imagine taking a picture and amping up the brightness to try and make out something in the background. That’s how these transfers looked to me. I’m sure U.S. audiences will love simply having these in their collections, so this might get by, though there are certainly better-looking films out there.
Audio: How does it sound?
Quite the opposite are the Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. There’s the original Japanese soundtracks included as well as the dubbed ones in English. Like a fool, I originally selected the dubbed version as I wanted to see if it made more sense in “English.” Bad choice. After switching it to the Japanese soundtrack, my speakers were really allowed to stretch their legs. Dialogue sounds strong and well-centered and what really grabbed me were the surrounds. This is painfully lacking on the dubbed version. LFE get several chances to be active and with plenty of gunfire, explosions and whatnot – there’s no shortage of action throughout. What these movies lack in video quality, they more than make up for in the robust audio tracks.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The Complete Collection is a four-disc set with the first two discs being the first movie (one a Director’s Cut and the other the Theatrical), the third is a Blu-ray of the second film and the fourth is a DVD containing all of the extras. Of note, all of the supplements pertain to the original movie and not the sequel. Hmmm…We start out with a “Making Of…” as we get some behind the scenes footage, interviews with the cast and crew and some raw footage. It’s not like the featurettes on American films, yet contains the same sort of information. There’s a “Press Conference” in which the director and cast sit down and answer questions. You know, a press conference! The girl from the instructional video evidently did an alternate take with “Instructional Video: Birthday Version” and a somewhat light-hearted birthday wish to director Fukasaku. Some audition tapes are shown as are some effects. The overly “spatter” effect of some of the blood looked almost comical. Some footage from the Tokyo International Film Festival (circa 2000) is shown with the cast answering some questions. The not so aptly-named “Documentary” is actually just some more behind the scenes footage and some more interviews. One thing that is rather interesting is the “Basketball Scene Rehersals” in which the cast came back to film more than 6 months after principal shooting had been completed. These scenes are seen in the Director’s Cut of the film. We’re treated to a few more features that contain some behind the scenes footage as well as the original theatrical trailer as well as one with director Quentin Tarantino (who has made no secret of his adoration for this film).