At long last, after countless tortured years spent dangling in hellish distribution limbo, Japanese legend Kinji Fukasaku’s adolescent shooting spree opus Battle Royale is finally, finally available on an actual, true-to-God, North American Blu-ray. Not just some generic, bullsh*t Blu-ray either – your friends and mine at Anchor Bay have triumphantly unveiled a hefty and attractive four-disc collector’s set, Battle Royale: The Complete Collection, which includes both the theatrical version and the director’s cut of the film, plus an entire disc of special features containing hours of additional material. They even threw in the notorious problematic sequel, BRII: Requiem, just for kicks and giggles.
If you have never heard of the original Battle Royale then I quake to contemplate the extremity of your empty and meaningless existence, but I’ll try to keep it together long enough to coherently explain. Basically, the plot is similar to Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games, which BR preceded by roughly eight years – in a dystopic future plagued by apathy, overpopulation, and a viciously competitive social atmosphere, the Japanese government begins enforcing an initiative known as the Battle Royale Survival Program. The BR initiative ostensibly exists for the purpose of thinning out the post-primary-educational playing field, while simultaneously reigniting the wavering respect of a growing class of aimless and rebellious Japanese youth for their elders. In reality, however, it’s clearly an excuse for a bloated and vicarious media event, intended to exorcise the frustrated authoritarian will of crazed and corrupt adults.
Thrust into the midst of this insanity are the forty-two hapless students comprising class 3-B, who are gassed unconscious during a school field trip and wake up on a military compound in the middle of an otherwise unpopulated island, with sinister, flashing electronic dog collars attached to their necks. After being confronted by one of their old primary school teachers (played by acclaimed Japanese filmmaker and public icon Takeshi Kitano), the students are informed that their collars are wired with explosives, and if they fail to successfully murder each other within a three-day period, all the remaining collars will explode. There can be only one survivor. The students are then handed weapons and basic supplies, and shoved out the door into the wilderness to begin fighting each other.
Hailed in its native Japan as a compassionate and technically accomplished masterpiece upon its initial release, Battle Royale gained an instant cult following overseas thanks to region-free DVD and VCD imports, Internet torrents, and illegal bootlegging. Its legitimate North American release was stymied for almost twelve years, however, by poor timing and political oversensitivity – for some reason, a movie about teenagers in school uniforms brutally murdering each other with Uzis wasn’t considered extremely marketable in the immediate wake of the Columbine massacre. Now that someone else’s blatant rip-off of the film is doing so well domestically, however, the pall has evidently lifted, and Battle Royale has become officially available.
Anchor Bay’s release is so fancy that it practically makes up for Battle Royale’s endlessly long period of domestic unavailability. Besides Requiem, the set includes over two hours of additional special features, including behind-the-scenes interviews with virtually the entire cast, as well as with director Fukasaku, now tragically deceased. Additionally, there’s a special effects comparison reel (highlighting CG augmentation so well integrated, it probably never occurred to you it was there), an array of footage from promotional events and film festivals, and a gag film, featuring that orange-shirted lady with the face glitter and the camouflage hat from the original BR instructional video, which was shot during the production to commemorate Fukasaku’s 70th birthday.
Requiem, unfortunately, is barely worth mentioning, and the set’s organization seems to reflect its inferior status. Its premise sounds great on paper, involving a revised BR program that pits disaffected reform school students against a terrorist cell comprised of previous survivors. Despite pointedly incendiary themes, the film’s execution is too unfocused to carry its own weight, and its lack of coherent narrative or clearly established characters ultimately sinks it. Its inclusion in the set feels more like a token concession to a completist mentality than a whole-hearted double billing, although a few sequences, like the flashbacks featuring Kitano and his daughter, are tantalizingly suggestive of a potentially stronger film.
The only weird thing about the set is that the special features, for some reason, are presented in a DVD format instead of Blu-ray, possibly because the video and sound quality are generally lower than those of the feature presentation. My player is a PS3, so backward compatibility isn’t an issue for me, but if you happen to have some sort of weird-ass Blu-ray player that doesn’t read DVDs, this could possibly create an issue for you.
Battle Royale: The Complete Collection is worth purchasing solely for its beautiful presentation of the original film, but the impressive range of extra material makes it a particularly solid release. Hopefully you’re ready to clear some space where those randomly dispersed DVD-rips and torrent files used to be, because this collection doesn’t just consolidate them, it will also look great on your shelf.