Arrow Video are truly spoiling us at the moment. One of the first boutique labels to make the move over to 4K UHD, they’ve been passionately bringing some unforgettable cult cinema to the sparkling premium format. Their latest release is a staggering release of the enormously influential 2001 modern classic Battle Royale.
Combining both cuts of the masterful film in 4K UHD with two Blu-rays containing both cuts of the film’s incendiary sequel, alongside a CD soundtrack, collector’s booklet, poster, Trump Cards and a jaw-dropping wealth of special features…This release is simply awe-inspiring! This is the kind of release that physical media is for. While the home entertainment market has certainly changed in the wake of streaming, labels like Arrow Video remind us why disc will never die. This release is, frankly, essential. The films look absolutely magnificent – the original classic in 4K UHD is an absolute revelation, lovingly restored from the original camera negative by Arrow Films under the supervision of Kenta Fukasaku (son of Battle Royale’s late director Kinji Fukasaku) – and the special features are absorbing. The new retrospective doc Coming of Age: Battle Royale at 20 is particularly compelling, looking back at the film’s immeasurable legacy and continuing influence.
This set is truly incredible and, after years of various DVDs and Blu-rays, certainly the definitive release of the acclaimed film.
BATTLE ROYALE 4K UHD LIMITED EDITION IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM ARROW VIDEO. IT IS ALSO AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND VOD.
Alex Moss’ original FilmJuice review: Battle Royale is the sort of film you are unlikely to see Hollywood ever make, although rumours and failed attempts abound. Not only is it utterly violent and politically harrowing it does it all while having a class full of school kids butchering each other with all manner of weaponry. It is the sort of film that Asian Cinema has become famous for, it pulls no punches and rams its point home to ruthless effect. Crucially though Battle Royale takes a look at individuals in their formative years and places them in a no win situation.
In the near future Japan is over-run with reckless youths. In an attempt to stem the tide they introduce the Battle Royale Act. The law sees a random high-school class selected to take part in a game to the death. Each student is given a weapon and wears a collar. If they try to escape the game the collar will blow their throat open. The only way to survive is to be the last person standing after three days. This year finds Nanahara’s (Fujiwara) class subjected to the game with their old teacher Kitano (Kitano) overseeing from his control centre.
For those looking for a subtle commentary on the youth of today in relation to violence Battle Royale will be too much. It pulls no punches and leaves very little to interpretation. As with many Japanese films it is over written and often over emphasises the points and themes it is trying to highlight. The burgeoning love between Nanahara and Noriko (Maeda) is one example of how the film announces its intent with a fanfare.
Where this tactic works though is in dealing with the playground politics of the memory of school. There are the ‘jocks’, the ‘sluts’, the ‘prudes’ the ‘geeks’ and in Battle Royale, although painted broadly, they all play a vital role in the progression, and understanding, of the world. Furthermore the use of teenagers, rather than adults, allows for a dark insight into the future generation and how they will come to view the world. The film deliberately instils a morbid sense of humour and ironies that continue to ring a wry smile from the audience, and Kitano, throughout. The message being that while the young have the ability for change, the adults are the ones that are dangerous in their refusal to adapt.
The Battle Royale Act is designed to, in some way, control the hostile youths in a modern society but the irony arises when they use force to inflict violence upon each other. Of course some of the characters try to take the battle to the adults but are constantly undermined by their peers who are happy to riddle their bodies with bullets in the desperate hope of being the last kid standing.
Director Fukasaku revels in bringing an operatic style to the film. The man behind Tora Tora Tora (1970) and Virus (1980) certainly enjoys looking at the disintegration of society and how extreme measures will always place a microscope over the best and worst of humanity. His execution is deliberately over the top with blood spectacularly spraying across the screen, all the more vividly in this Blu-Ray release, and the use of calm classical music to juxtapose the chaos on screen. As a result you are never anything other than seduced into the lavish world he creates.
Many of the cast are never given the chance to make a mark on the film, normally dispatched within only a few minutes of screen time. Fujiwara has gone onto play all manner of disturbed youngsters,
especially in the Death Note films, but here is adamant to survive the ordeal without killing. As a result his character Nanahara is always bordering on wet but his gradual genesis makes him the closest thing the film has to a hero. To this extent he handles the role well and, thanks to flashbacks, we come to fully appreciate his determination and value for life. However, it is Takeshi Kitano who steals much of the limelight from under the noses of the younger cast. Always a hugely magnetic screen presence the actor who brought such films as Zatoichi (2003) and Brother (2000) to life presents the dark comedy centre to the film. Indeed as the film unfolds we rapidly learn that he is a compassionate, yet deeply flawed character, making him all the more appealing.
Taken too seriously it will offend but read, as the book and later Manga comic, are intended, Battle Royale is a darkly comedic treat. The over statement of certain aspects are forgivable for the endless fun and harrowing violence, while the asides and winks that the script presents are a delight. Winning the war on conventional plots Battle Royale is a true victor.