ASIAN FILM - Review
15:32 - 18th March 2013, by Calum Waddell

Battle Royale

Come on class, by now you all know the drill: you will be sent to an island as part of the annual "Battle Royale" television show, wherein you will each be pitted against one another in a game to the death. The last survivor will be declared the winner and allowed to live. And don't try and escape... that electric collar you have around your neck will detonate if you attempt any funny stuff. We are doing this because we, the adult world, are afraid of you, the youth minority...

Formerly released by Tartan Films, and quickly becoming one of the most famous examples of world cinema, 2000's Battle Royale, which was based on the best-selling book by Koushun Takami, has caused controversy and achieved accolades ever since it first hit cinema screens. Directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku (whose son unwisely attempted to continue the mythology with the largely botched Battle Royale 2), this super-sick slice of splatter celluloid has a class of school children forced into combat on a faraway desert island.

The scenario itself is almost impossibly nasty, and the resulting action is intensely gripping, as Fukasaku stretches his social satire to breaking point. Yes, Battle Royale is nothing if not forthright - attacking the concept of sending the young to war, the school social system, the forcing of lofty expectations on children and even gender roles in Japanese society; this is an angry, angry little romp. And it makes no bones about that. The death and destruction onscreen, of course, is also sometimes played for (very dark) laughs, but Battle Royale is so disturbing and dark that it is hard to laugh along with a group of teens merrily massacring one another. Nevertheless, part of the outing's cult appeal is, doubtless, because some do find fun in all the flayed bodies - obviously indicating that this is a gore-fest which is entirely open to personal interpretation...

However, moving away from the "message" of Battle Royale, let us not forget that part of what makes this picture so powerful is a near-flawless cast, including Takeshi Kitano as a doomed (and possibly paedophilic) school teacher, Chiaki Kuriyama as the cutest scythe-wielding weirdo ever put onscreen and Tatsuya Fujiwara as an eternally likeable hero. Also adding to the mayhem is some amazing special effects trickery - indeed, fact fans, Battle Royale was one of the first flicks to use CGI blood, although you would be hard pressed to notice. It all adds up to a scorching screen experience and makes you wonder why the 2003 sequel could not quite "get" what made the original so effective.

Included in this Arrow Video release is the "director's cut" of Battle Royale, for which director Fukasaku went back and shot a number of new scenes for inclusion in a (cash-fleecing) re-release. Sadly, none of this really adds that much to the plot - even in spite of a longer epilogue and some flashbacks here and there to a few students' past lives. That said, it remains an interesting oddity and its inclusion here is much appreciated. However, it is the transfer to Blu-ray that will, of course, have most Eastern cinema fanatics running to the shops to grab a copy of Battle Royale - and Arrow has not let anyone down.

This a high-end HD transfer with every bloody spot of bodily destruction captured in pin-sharp gory glory - and an extra disc worth of goodies makes this a must-have, and very special, little box set. Colour us impressed.
Class dismissed.

A battle worth engaging in - fight your way to the shops for this stunning collectible!
SCORE: 5/5
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