Battle Royale is back. It’s time to return to the island and kill your friends, because the cult Japanese movie that defines twisted action and sickening violence is ready to shock you all over again. While we wait for the U.S. to give the franchise a proper Blu-ray release, Arrow Video has just now released a rockin’ high-def set for those lucky enough to be based in the UK. Bloody Disgusting’s Ryan Daley got his hands on a set and sent in the following review.
Despite an insanely rabid cult following, Battle Royale (2000) has yet to receive an honest-to-God distribution deal here in the U.S. Tartan Asia Extreme did America a serious solid by releasing a 2002 Special Edition DVD as region-free, but that didn’t stop fans from complaining about the “bootleg quality” and shoddy subtitling. But hey, at least Tartan tried. Toei Company (the rights holder) is notoriously difficult to deal with, and no American distributor has really stepped up to the plate. Rather than ensure that Battle Royale gets a decent DVD release, the American film industry seems content to simply remake the damn thing.
So when U.K-based Arrow Films announced the release of a 3-disc Blu-Ray set a couple of months ago, European fans were understandably ecstatic. But guess what? It’s region-free, bitches! So even your grandma in Orlando can enjoy Kinji Fukasaku’s nihilistic classic in resplendent high-def without having to bother with a DVD region hack code!
The basic plot, for the uninitiated: Sometime in the near future, the rate of unemployment in Japan skyrockets, which results in a complete boycott of school by 800,000 teenagers. (Hard to see the cause and effect relationship there, but whatever.) With adults fearing a total loss of control, the Millennium Education Reform Act is passed–a.k.a., the Battle Royale Act–a new law that forces a single school class of teens to gather on a remote island to fight to the death. (With 800K students boycotting school, why pick on the kids that are actually attending school? But once again, I digress…) Each of the 42 students is equipped with a random weapon–an axe here, an Uzi there–and given a sack of supplies. As the 3-day death battle rages on, some friendships are strengthened, some friendships are destroyed, and somewhere in the chaos of it all, the movie makes a bold statement about the idealism of youth…or the corruption of the Japanese legal system…or something…so, hey, did I mention that this one dude gets stabbed in the balls a bunch of times? That’s really all you need to know.
The 3-disc set includes the Theatrical Cut, the “Director’s Cut” (which isn’t really the “Director’s Cut”, but rather the “Extended Cut”, since the director reportedly prefers the theatrical version), and a disc of special features. Many of the special features were included on the old “Special Edition” DVD, but there are a few extra nuggets here. Perhaps most impressive are the paper goods included (which I, admittedly, have not seen, since they weren`t included with the screeners I received): a 32-page comic book, a 36-page book including an excerpt from the source novel, some postcards, a reversible poster, and a 16-page booklet of concept art.
Both films are reportedly a restored transfer in true 1080p, although strangely, the Theatrical Cut had the superior image quality. The colors were super rich, popping right off the screen. During the wide compositional shots depicting the entire class, individual facial features were crisp as real life. The booming strains of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra came close to burning out my speakers. Frankly, it was a glorious experience, a vast improvement over the incomprehensibly subtitled DVD I watched 6 years ago.
Arrow Filmsis releasing a limited, numbered run of 10,000 copies. You can order the set directly from Arrow’s website for around $48 US, but it’s also available for about half price at Amazon.co.uk. Once again, my fellow Americans, it’s region-free. You can’t miss this one.