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April 3, 2012

13

On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Battle Royale (2000)

by NIR SHALEV

This is a beast of a movie. Koshun Takami’s novel was first adapted into a manga (Japanese comics) and then made into this feature-length film. Battle Royale tells the story of what happens when adults in Japan decide to strike back against rebellious youths.

The film is set in Japan at a future time in which the adult population is fed up with youths disrespecting them. The government draws a school name and class at random, via imperial lottery and the students from the chosen class are outfitted with explosive collars. An instructional video is shown to the students, supervised by Kitano-sensei (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano) and the students are informed that they will be dropped off on an island, equipped with random weapons, and only one student will come out alive. The Battle Royale is also an effective albeit cruel form of population control.

What the audience is then subjected to is a presentation of the various school cliques joined together on a distant island in order to survive, only to eventually backstab one another. The veneer of civilization crumbles as per expectation, because when faced with great adversity, the average student is far more of a coward than they thought they were and many of the students are murdered mercilessly because they are nothing more than kids. It’s a savage film that’s also a biting social commentary and it’s simultaneously disturbing and exhilarating.

It’s also a very bloody and gory film that’s somewhat hard to watch because the performances of the students are quasi-realistic. The cast consists of actual teenagers and they don’t ham up the theatrics beyond believability. They scream in pain when shot, clubbed, or stabbed and the fear in their eyes, for the most part, looks genuine.

Battle Royale became an international instant cult classic upon initial theatrical release and further proved that Japan can sometimes be a tad crazy. I can only hope that those living outside of Asia and who are experiencing the film for the first time don’t think that Japan has actually concocted a real life Battle Royale and specifically for the aforementioned reason. There was also a sequel made in 2003 but it lacked all of the importance that the original contained and is a terrible film on its own.

I recommend this film not only because it needs to be seen but because “The Hunger Games” movie sounds remarkably similar to Battle Royale. I know that they’re unrelated films and that they exist in two completely different universes, but one can’t help but notice the similarities. The one striking difference is that The Hunger Games is intended for virtually all ages while Battle Royale is intended for adult viewers only. I can’t stress enough how bloody and violent the film is and the more disturbing that one finds it the more the film gets it point across. Rent it or buy it; it’s a cult classic for a reason.

Battle Royale is on DVD and Blu-ray and the Blu-ray HD video transfer’s really good. There’s also really good HD audio that supports 7.1 surround. However, here’s the dilemma: the DVD/Blu-ray of the standalone film doesn’t contain any special features while the four-disc “Complete Collection” edition has a slew of them, including the sequel. So, true fans of Battle Royale would be advised to purchase the box set version.

New releases this week: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, War Horse, We Bought a Zoo


13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Geoff
    Apr 4 2012

    Glad to see a review of this with Hunger Games in theaters, and the similarities do seem overwhelming. Both films are set in the future, both have a group of young children that are forced to fight to the death until one remains, both movies are abount controlling the populations through the slaughter, and there’s even a boy looking to ensure the lead girl’s survival at his own expense.

    As you write, perhaps the only big difference is the level of violence on screen, and I’m curious whether you think the Battle Royale or Hunger Games model is the better choice. Each is a commentary on cultural fascination with sensationalism and exploitation, and if we take the movies to heart, how do we reconcile our own entertainment at the sight of children murdering one another?

  2. Apr 4 2012

    I was wondering whether the two films would be as disturbing if the youths were to be swapped for adults, and I’d immediately realized that the answer is no. I don’t know why youths fighting one another instead of adults is the case in both stories except for one idea that came to mind: isn’t it ironic how children are the future yet we tend to send them to play murderous games in order to control the population? It’s bizarre, frightening, and ultimately somewhat entertaining.

    Watching “Beat” Takeshi throw a knife into a girl’s face and yelling “no whispering in class!” is always disturbing. One still can’t help but laugh, though.

    And to answer your question, Geoff I haven’t watched “The Hunger Games” but find that it seems to be a quasi-important film specifically because it’s topical. In the wake of reality TV (that’s actually been around for over a decade) that’s taking over the airwaves, with exception to sitcoms, which also dominate the airwaves, it seems to be the backbone of “The Hunger Games” concept. Not only are the youths chosen to kill one another for their selected Districts but they’re made into pop idols for the cameras and are made into TV personalities. In “Battle Royale”, society just wants the kids dead regardless of how they do it and who is actually left alive. I find that far more disturbing and therefore, far more effective.

    Yes, “The Hunger Games” echoes “The Running Man” quite a lot but I find “The Running Man” to have a superior concept because 1) it was conceived 25 years ago, 2) it centers on a game show where people dying in gruesome ways on TV is what the audience demands, and 3) that’s entertainment.

    People compare The Hunger Games to ancient Rome and its gruesome Colosseum ceremonies and games and I can see that because in both cases “to the victor go the spoils”. What I like about “Battle Royale” the most is that parents don’t care. The action isn’t televised. The reporters hang around the finish line and interview the lone survivor with camera, provided that the survivor can actually still speak.

    I do want to watch “The Hunger Games” but will wait for video because I hear that it’s shot entirely hand-held and that the action sequences are really Bourne Ultimatum-like.

  3. Geoff
    Apr 5 2012

    I haven’t seen The Hunger Games either, in part because I have seen battle Royale, and I’m not really sure what I would get out of the experience. It’s similar to why I haven’t seen the Fincher version of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, nothing against the movie, but if I’ve already seen something great that covers the territory, although perhaps I’m giving short shrift to Hunger Games’ take on the concept.

    My initial thought was a pg-13 movie excoriating society for watching kids killing one another was a bit hypocritical (all of the lurid sensationalism of the premise without ever actually having to watch the heroine embrace mass slaughter). Like you I’ll probably end up seeing it once its left theaters, an airplane seems likely, but I think one of the things that made Battle Royale so good was the relentless intensity of it all, brought home by the sickening violence. Frankly, I’m not sure I should be upset by a world with a bunch of kids forced into killing one another if the whole affair has been airbrushed and santitized for my enjoyment. I’ll withhold final judgement until I see it, but my guess is you can’t have it both ways.

  4. Apr 5 2012

    No, sir, you can not. :O)

    I watched the Dragon Tattoo remake a couple of weeks back and it’s remarkably similar to the original Swedish version. I much prefer the original, however because the remake, even though its cinematography is gorgeous is a weaker film specifically because it’s a remake that’s too similar to the original. Also it’s more tame. It’s a more professional product and it looks and sounds like one; I prefer the rawness of the performances of the original and its lack of polish. Rooney Mara gives a good performance but I never felt that she embodied Lisbeth. Noomi Rapace is the one and only. :O)

  5. Richard Winters
    Apr 5 2012

    I haven’t seen either film, but I can tell already just from your description Nir that ‘Battle Royale’ sounds far superior and the type of film I would like to see. I think ‘Battle Royale’ sounds like it has more of a nihlistic sense while American films tend to always tone down that sentiment. I also think the reason ‘Hunger Games’ cast teens and kids in the leading roles is because Hollywood always tries to cater to the youth market and cast films that will attract the teens.

  6. Aaron Ploof
    Apr 5 2012

    Just in case you’re guys are wondering, the heroine of the Hunger Games pretty much loses her humanity by the end of the third novel. Having read the books, I can tell you that you’re underestemating the material.

    Hunger Games never takes a sensationlistic approach to the matter, in fact, the third novel was extremely controversial due to the fact that it was so hopeless, stark, and realistic. This series is not some “happy” series where you have good guys and bad guys. It’s much more complex than that and even goes further than Battle Royale in its thematic explorations.

    Suffice to say, when Suzanne Collins wrote the books, she was not interested in sparing her readers from heartache. Take my word for it. Give the film series a chance and you might be surprised.

  7. Aaron Ploof
    Apr 5 2012

    Besides, the two protagonists of Battle Royale never really embraced killer instincts either, did they? At least not like the main antagonist of the film.

  8. Apr 5 2012

    There are only three kids in Battle Royale that have killer instincts out of the entire class. That’s the idea. Almost everyone on that island is a scared teenager and their deaths are disturbing because they’re bloody and filled with terrified screams and cries.

    And like I previously mentioned, I do want to see The Hunger Games but I don’t see the third film being nearly as impactful and nihilistic as the book. It can’t be. From what I’ve been hearing regards book to film adaptation, the book series is “rated R”. I don’t know how it was marketed for “young adults” but I hear that the first film doesn’t cover what’s really going on inside Katniss’ mind and the books are very internalized; many mature readers are wondering why the film didn’t have internal narration. But, again, I’ll eventually get to the film.

    I don’t like reality TV and I never have. And even though I do watch the occasional Chef Ramsay show, that’s about it. I find that The Hunger Games being topical of current sensationalist media and reality TV the type of annoying meta storytelling; well, I don’t care much for meta anyway. But I am curious as to why The Hunger Games made so much bloody money on its opening weekend and still up until today and I will catch it on video.

    My worst prejudice is the shaky camera syndrome. :O)

  9. Apr 6 2012

    This post and comment thread have been very illuminating (thanks guys!). I haven’t watched “Battle Royale” or “Hunger Games” because the premise- children killing children at the government’s behest- _is_ so disturbing. I’ve thought about watching “Battle Royale” before but I’m really not sure I could take it. It’s only in the last couple of years that I was able to bring myself to read “Lord of the Flies” and there the parable doesn’t involve society constructing the killing ground.

  10. Aaron Ploof
    Apr 6 2012

    [quote]There are only three kids in Battle Royale that have killer instincts out of the entire class. That’s the idea. Almost everyone on that island is a scared teenager and their deaths are disturbing because they’re bloody and filled with terrified screams and cries.[/quote]

    It’s like that in the novels, and it’s definitely R-rated material. I honestly have no idea how they will slide Mockingjay with a PG-13 and retain the impact of the novel. It’s going to lose a lot of its punch.

    I wouldn’t care the series, nihilistic, exactly, as there is hope at the end of the novel. It’s just a realistic take on war and it’s effects.

    Yes, after the first book, the whole satire on reality T.V. thing is kind of pushed to the side, on the series focuses more on the ambiguous nature of morality and the duality of mankind.

  11. Aaron Ploof
    Apr 6 2012

    BTW, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was superb, and made the need for internal narraration obsolete.

  12. Apr 6 2012

    @Jennifer Lawrence, good. I thought that in Winter’s Bone she was amazing and everyone says that her performance in The Hunger Games is one of the film’s greatest strengths. The same goes for Elizabeth Olsen: she’s amazing in “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, although I found the film to be mediocre, and I hear that no matter how terrible of a film Silent House (2012) is, she’s amazing in it. :O)

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