DirectorKinji Fukasaku, Kenta Fukasaku
Release Date(s)2000/2003 (March 12, 2012)
Studio(s)AM Associates/Toei Company (Anchor Bay)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
From the failed experiment pile comes a little something we called Doogan v. Jahnke. This is in all actuality a transcript of a conversation between cult film expert Dr. Adam Jahnke and amateur race car driver and raconteur Todd Doogan (raconteur means someone who hunts raccoons, right?). In this case, our focus is the 2012 Blu-ray release of the controversial film series: Battle Royale. Please enjoy.
Dr. Adam Jahnke: There are plenty of theories about why Kinji Fukasaku’s controversial 2000 film Battle Royale has never officially received a release in the United States. It became popular to say the movie was “banned” in America but that’s not exactly true. It’s also been said that no distributor would touch it in the wake of such events as the Columbine school shootings, fearing that Americans had perhaps lost their taste for watching ninth-graders slaughter each other.
There may be some truth to that but most likely, the bottom line is that the Japanese distributor, Toei, simply wanted more money than any distributor brave enough to pick up the film was able to afford. Which I suppose is a form of economic blacklisting, if you really want to say the movie was banned.
Anyway, just because Battle Royale was officially unavailable in the US doesn’t mean there weren’t still opportunities for Americans to check it out. If you have a region-free player, there were plenty of European and Asian editions. Tartan Films even released an all-region DVD in the UK which is probably the most frequently imported version.
Now, at long last, Anchor Bay is releasing the first fully authorized American edition of Battle Royale, along with its 2003 sequel, in an impressive four-disc Blu-ray/DVD set. And, in what I’m sure is just a stunning coincidence, it’s coming out just in time for the movie version of The Hunger Games. What do you think, Todd? Am I reading too much into that?
Todd Doogan: That it’s a coincidence? No, it’s no coincidence. You know as well as I do, DVD and Blu-ray releases are all about timing. Even if there weren’t glaring similarities between the two properties – I would imagine just the “kids fighting to the death for the government” angle would be enough to warrant The Bay thrusting this set under our noses. Not that I’m condemning them for being capitalists – I’m ecstatic that these two films will now be widely available to American fans. I just think – yeah, this is a timed release and I’m surprised there isn’t a movie voucher inside.
Regarding the fact that both stories have similar themes: I just hope that there won’t be Team Battle Royale versus Team Hunger Games factions popping up – both are grand pieces of entertainment on their own, and that’s an unnecessary argument. And note, I can only speak to the book series Hunger Games – I haven’t seen the film yet.
First, the thing Games fans will have to understand is – no educated fan of Battle Royale thinks that Suzanne Collins stole from BR. There are a lot of weird similarities but, I truly believe that all but one happened without any undue influence from BR. Both stories owe royalties to William Golding and his Lord of the Flies and Stephen King for his “Richard Bachman” novellas The Long Walk and The Running Man (as well as the film Running Man begat). To think either Collins or Koushun Takami (who wrote the manga series the Battle Royale films are based on) were unaware of the Golding and King stories is outlandish. To hear that Collins had no idea what Battle Royale was before someone pointed it out to her after her manuscript was delivered to the publisher is much more believable.
Jahnke: I’m glad you mentioned the Bachman books since they were the first things I thought of when I first saw Battle Royale about a decade ago. Especially The Long Walk, which is almost weirder than BR since it’s just a sadistic endurance test rather than a fight to the finish. You’re absolutely right. Stories about kids turning on each other, whether for survival or being forced into it by law, are certainly nothing new.
Comparisons aside, BR is still something of a masterpiece. Fukasaku is one of the great Japanese directors that, I think, not enough people are aware of. BR walks a fine line, balancing dark (very dark) comedy, suspense, and action. And if that was all it did, that’d be accomplishment enough. But there’s also sadness to the movie, especially in Beat Takeshi’s sensei character. He seems full of regret, both for his own life and society at large.
My one hope is that audiences who haven’t seen BR yet don’t focus on the so-called “banned in the USA” aspect. Compared to more recent movie controversies like A Serbian Film and those Human Centipede things, BR is practically restrained.
Doogan: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Fukasaku was an underrated master – and BR ends up one hell of a swan song for him. It’s not his masterstroke by any means, but it’s a fun film. I also enjoyed the fact that this set allows us to see both the original theatrical cut – which is a streamlined, no-holds-barred type of deal and the “Special Edition”/ Director’s Cut that adds a whole bunch of back-story through the use of dream sequences, a little bit of poetic character motivation is some of the “kills” and of course CGI blood splatter that I found excessive and pointless – mostly because it’s so in-your-face and noticeable. Cinematically, the Director’s Cut is a better film, but the theatrical cut has a purity to it that makes it worthy of having in this set. What did you think?
Jahnke: I’m not sure that the Director’s Cut is necessarily better but it’s certainly interesting. I didn’t mind the new CGI blood as much as you did, which kind of surprises me since I usually find Digi-Blood extremely obtrusive. But while I enjoyed many of the back-story sequences, not all of the new material works. I didn’t need to see the basketball game quite so many times, for instance. But if nothing else, it’s an interesting companion piece.
Kinji Fukasaku died shortly after production began on the sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem. The movie was completed by his son, Kenta Fukasaku. Battle Royale probably didn’t need to have a sequel and BR2 doesn’t do much to convince us otherwise. The characters aren’t as interesting and the movie just seems like mayhem for the sake of mayhem. But maybe I’m holding it to too high a standard.
Doogan: I don’t think you are actually – not a whole lot of what happens in the sequel works, honestly. I mean, the action follows the government’s efforts to take down the survivor of the first film who had taken the system on by becoming a terrorist. To do this, the game now takes class’s hostage much like the first film but instead of sending them out to kill each other they are outfitted to infiltrate the headquarters of the terrorists (Wild Seven) and kill them. The confusing part is – we start the film off with the daughter of Takashi volunteering for service and then getting gassed like everyone else. Was she volunteering her class here? I didn’t get it. And then she’s treated like an asshole like everyone else. You’d figure someone with her pedigree and clear want for success would be treated better. It just didn’t make must sense. Did you understand this whole thing and can explain it to me?
Jahnke: Not a clue, sorry. We do actually see her register for the BR2 program, so I guess we just have to assume she sacrificed her entire class in an attempt to work out her daddy issues. But I didn’t start to seriously worry about the sequel until the understated cool of Beat Takeshi as the BR sensei was replaced by the scenery-chewing Riki Takeuchi, acting sort of like Wayne Newton if he were cast in The Matrix. Even the things I liked about the movie struck me as a colossal missed opportunity. I thought it was clever that the whole storming-the-beach mission was shot Saving Private Ryan-style and expected the movie to at least get some mileage out of adults sending kids off to war. But the movie gets bogged down in a lot of geopolitical stuff that only makes things more confusing. Oh, well. At least Sonny Chiba has a little cameo and it’s always good to see him.
Doogan: I originally thought the casting of Riki was awesome when I saw images of him online and connected him to Miike’s Fudoh and the DOA series. This, of course, was before I saw the film on this set for the first time. You’re being kind when you say he chewed the scenery. Without the leadership and guidance of Miike in his life, I’m afraid Riki is a mad dog off a leash. It’s kinda hard to watch. Overall, I have to say the second film is hard to watch. A lot of missteps, odd choices in story and execution and bad acting throughout. But all that said, the first BR is quite awesome and it benefits having a set that presents both film side-by-side.
Jahnke: Agreed and especially in such good quality. It’s a little bit hard for me to judge the video and audio qualities of these movies since I don’t have anything to compare them with apart from my probably-not-entirely-trustworthy memories of seeing the first one ten years ago. But I’d say the set met or exceeded my expectations in every way. The films look sharp, detailed and, I’ll assume, an accurate representation of how they’re meant to be seen. But I was blown away by the 7.1 audio on both films. These are some hot-damn dynamic soundtracks with bullets flying every which way. There were more than a few moments that I mistook something on the soundtrack for something happening in the room with me. Were you satisfied by the presentation of the movies? And how about that loaded fourth disc of bonus features?
Doogan: It is pretty loaded, isn’t it? And it’s a pretty comprehensive collection of things that have popped up over the last decade on other sets. Like you, my memory is a bit fuzzy having seen the first film on DVDs from other regions before now – but nothing looks all that new to my eyes. The fact that all of it was standard-definition may support that. Reused from past editions or not – it’s all pretty interesting. There’s a close to hour-long making of that focuses on the elder Fukasaku’s and this being his 60th film. We see a lot of behind-the-scenes, audition footage and vintage cast interviews. It’s fun, but it begins to show its running time. We also get your standard Japanese Press Conference. A nice little look at the cultural difference between Japan and Hollywood. There’s nice reel showing some of the CG blood splatter that was put into the Special Edition, film festival interviews from the Tokyo International Film fest, the fun Instructional J-Pop video from the first film is here uninterrupted, audition and rehearsal footage, rehearsal of the basketball scene added into the first film’s Special Edition, trailers, TV spots, behind-the scenes footage, EPK interviews and a short documentary that seems to incorporate all of the above into a easy to digest twelve-minute package. Ya know, come to think of it – the entire special edition material seems to be archival to the first film’s production and release. Nothing about the second film. You find that weird? Does this make the set a special edition of just Battle Royale and the theatrical edition and sequel serve as special features in and of themselves? The disc-faces do say Battle Royale Disc One, Disc Two, Disc Three, Disc Four and make no mention on Disc Three that it’s part 2.
Jahnke: It is a little odd, now that you mention it. It would have been nice for at least a little something on the sequel, even if it was just a brief interview with Fukasaku Jr. talking about how much he missed his dad. You’re right; the best way to look at it is if you consider the sequel a special feature in and of itself. Kind of like how Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission is on Warner’s Dirty Dozen special edition.
Doogan: All told, I’m super excited that we have our own region approved Blu-ray of this film in my collection. I think it’s an important Japanese film based on its subject matter and link to Kinji Fukasaku. As you pointed out, it looks and sounds utterly fantastic. And the special features, even if they’re archival in nature and don’t necessarily provide the insight you’d want or expect; they’re still worthy of being tied to this set. The Battle Royale Collector’s Edition is a hell of a set. What do you think of the total package?
Jahnke: I would have been satisfied with just the original film getting a R1 release. It’s worth pointing out that if that’s all you want, Anchor Bay is releasing it on its own, both on DVD and Blu-ray. But I’m even happier to have the movie, the special edition, the misbegotten sequel (even if only to satisfy my curiosity), and bonus features that don’t exactly break new ground but are never less than interesting, all in a sturdy, handsomely designed set. All that’s missing is the 2010 Battle Royale 3D conversion but you know what? I think I’m OK with that.
Film Ratings (Battle Royale/Battle Royale II: Requiem): A/C-
- Dr. Adam Jahnke & Todd Doogan