After a little over a decade, Battle Royale was finally picked up by Anchor Bay for stateside distribution. We were thankfully not subjected to a 3D release, but the film did begin a brief theatrical run late last year, eleven years after it was originally unleashed on the world. Now, after being almost impossible to distribute due to post-Columbine backlash and MPAA concerns – try imagining this thing cut down to an R and tell me there would even be a movie left. For those who actively sought out a copy before this momentous occasion, it wasn’t exactly hard. I remember picking up a region-free three-disc box set from a local store for about $30 a few years back, with the only drawback being the special features had no subtitles. And the picture was a tad cloudy. And the packaging was shoddy. OK, maybe it wasn’t great, but it was a temporary fix – note: there was also a region-free version released by Tartan UK, though I never had the pleasure of watching it.
A few months ago, I attempted something a little different with my review of the Friday the 13th Ultimate Collection by primarily focusing on the packaging and content rather than the films, and since a lot of you seemed to really dig that, I’m going to try to use the format more frequently for bigger, well-known genre film rereleases. Since around 90% of you reading this have already seen both films and could care less that I think the original is a pretty unique opera of blood that operates as a comment on adolescent violence, the lengths people would go to to survive, and teamwork, not to mention successfully mixing action, horror and dark comedy (the only thing I really don’t like is the romantic subplot between the two leads, which I don’t think really works at all); you just want to know if you should throw down $30 for yet ANOTHER copy.
For this entry, I’ll be comparing the Anchor Bay Battle Royale Collection to the Limited Edition region-free set released by Arrow Films in 2010.
After a lot of scene comparisons, I’m inclined to believe that Anchor Bay and Arrow Films used the same master, with Anchor Bay brightening the picture and playing with the colors somewhat. Wherever the transfer came from, DNR and edge enhancement is apparent in a few scenes, though it doesn’t really ruin the image on the whole. Contrast is slightly better on the Anchor Bay version, with the colors seeming to be more distinct and crisp and the whites more balanced – on the Arrow Films version, they are somewhat murkier and seem to blend together. For both releases, the picture on the special edition is slightly better than the theatrical cut.
In the sound department, the Anchor Bay disc triumphs with a Japanese 7.1 TrueHD track for the original, which the Arrow Films version only has 5.1. Special effect sounds, like gunfire, seem to get muffled occasionally, but dialogue and the score are both great sounding and without issues for the most part. The Anchor Bay version also comes with an English dub-track for the special edition, which wasn’t my thing, but it’s there if you want it.
Anchor Bay Special Features
Battle Royale II: Requiem (133:00) – Requiem is a total mess: uninteresting and unfocused, with some really odd 9/11 commentary thrown in. Following the events of the first film, the Japanese government has assembled a new group of kids (not all from the same class) and forces them to take on the Wild Seven, a terrorist group headed by Nanahara – the main character from the original. After the children make their way to the island, their collars are removed and they are given the choice to join the Wild Seven. The acting is truly awful for the most part, the storyline is totally confusing, and the suspense that, in part, made the first film work so well is completely absent – this is more likely due to the fact that Kinji Fukasaku died after shooting one scene and his son Kenta, who wrote both films and had never directed before, finished it. It’s not good, but if you’re curious, here you go.
The Making Of Battle Royale (50:22) – This comprehensive doc basically incorporates most of the topics other featurettes on the disc have, but in a more truncated form. If you only have time (or patience) for one behind-the-scenes piece on the film (this set is jam-packed with them), then this is it. Raw footage, interviews, rehearsal footage, a look at the special effects; this really has a little bit of everything.
Battle Royale Press Conference (12:03) – A Japanese press junket for the film, prior to test screenings, featuring Fukasaku, novelist Koushun Takami, star Takeshi Kitano and all of the main kids. Don’t expect anything too meaty here; it’s main lip-service for each other and some thoughts on the novel and script – nothing incredibly deep.
Instructional Video: Birthday Version (3:04) – A short video celebrating Fukasaku’s birthday during the shoot, complete with an intro from the BR instruction video girl.
Audition and Rehearsal Footage (7:12) – Rehearsal snippets from the classroom introduction and dinner table scenes, amongst others, some stunt training sessions, and a table reading.
Special Effects Comparison (4:18) – A montage of death scenes and establishing shots, showing exactly what was changed in the included scenes. They’re all pretty neat, especially the exploding necklace and scenery bits, but in one or two instances, it made the CGI stand-out more where it didn’t before – I’m going to be pointing out CGI blood during repeat viewings (some of the shots from the Special Edition were always obvious, though).
Tokyo International Film Festival 2000 (4:28) – Fukasaku and the cast’s audience presentation at a gala screening during the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2000.
Battle Royale Documentary (12:10) – A typical EPK, with some raw footage and interview clips spliced together. Definitely not as good as the other making-of on the disc.
Basketball Scene Rehearsals (8:40) – Six months after production ceased on the original shoot, Fukasaku got the cast together again to do additional scenes for a special addition, which is pretty different from the usual “here’s some stuff left over, let’s release this as a director’s cut” approach. The raw footage included here is from the basketball game framework.
Behind-The-Scenes Featurette (10:10) – More raw footage from the shoot, with these being a little more lighthearted and “gag reel” appropriate.
Filming On-Set (11:02) – If there’s one thing the crew didn’t skimp on, it’s behind-the-scenes footage.
Arrow Films Special Features
The Arrow Films release comes with all of the aforementioned special features – minus Requiem – and the following:
Opening Day at Marunouchi Toei Movie Theater (14:26) – Fukasaku and various cast members answer questions before a screening of the film. The info they go over can be found in various other featurettes on the disc, but what’s really neat is the look at all the programs and swag people are buying in the theatre lobby.
The Correct Way To Fight In Battle Royale (2:35) – The instructional video from the film.
Masamichi Amano Conducts Battle Royale (9:46) – Footage of Masamichi Amano conducting an orchestra. No talking; just pure music.
Takeshi Kitano Interview (11:51) – The respected actor talks about why the film piqued his interest, the method of playing himself, and his experiences on set. He’s a great interviewee, and my only wish is that the interview was longer and covered more of his career.
Conducting Battle Royale With The Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra (7:27) – Similar to the other music featurette on the disc.
Clearly, Arrow Films wins on the special features department.
The Anchor Bay collection, like the Friday the 13th set, comes packaged in a book, with the discs housed in the pages. There’s the potential for scratching on the special features discs, which is a DVD rather than Blu-ray, but the Blus should be fine.
Arrow Films’ set is boxed, with five thin paper and plastic amrays. Cases one through three contain two versions of the film on Blu-ray, and a standard definition special features disc. Case four contains a book of artwork and concepts, and another with essays (Today’s Lesson Is You Kill Each Other by Jay McRoy, A Battle Without An End by Tom Mes, and Kinji Fukasaku Interviewed by Tom Mes), a director’s statement, biographies, filmographies, and an excerpt from the novel. Case five contains the comic Battle Royale: Parent’s Day by Stefan Hutchinson and Barry Keating, a small poster, and some lobby cards.
Arrow Films wins this round.
Despite having better picture and audio, Arrow Films has the superior set. The AQ/PQ is only slightly inferior, but the robust amount of special features and physical extras give it a clear victory.
However, since the set is OOP, costing upwards of $100 on the secondary market, the Anchor Bay set is the more reasonable choice – unless it’s your favorite movie of all time. In that case, by all means, spring for it.