9 years before Suzanne Collins frightened teens with a dystopian novel about a bunch of kids forced by the government to kill one another in an all out… well Battle Royale, Japanese teens got to read a very similar, very popular ultraviolet book. This book entitled Battle Royale, was highly controversial (politicians at the time tried to get it banned) and a year later it was adapted into a movie that was a box office smash in Japan (there was also a manga adaptation that came out around the same time). If you were like me back in 2002, your mind was blown when you got your first look at this Japanese teenage bloodbath thanks to import DVD’s. It was an amazing moment in audaciously ultraviolet cinema, and since it was hard to find it was impossibly culty. It’s taken 12 years, but we finally have a beautiful HD version of Battle Royale thanks to a new Blu-ray (There’s also a primo 3 Disc set available).
In the future, thanks to financial collapse and record unemployment, 800,000 kids stop going to school and all of Japan looks like that movie Project X. The government fears this army of delinquents and passes the BR act, that randomly selects one class of 9th graders a year to be thrown on an island and forced to kill one another until there can be only one!!! (yes there are beheadings in this movie also). Japanese Superstar Takeshi Kitano (Beat Takeshi) plays the man in control of the BR Survival Program, whose pretty much the most pissed of teacher in the world. A class of teens on their way to a school trip get gassed and put on the island, given a bag with a weapon (some lethal, others pitifully useless), get an exploding Running Man-esque collar and are given 3 days to kill each other off.
From then on we get 2 hours of morbidly entertaining violence. Some kids run and hide, others commit suicide instead of losing there humanity, while a select few delight in the sudden bloodshed. American audiences might recognize Chiaki Kuriyama (Gogo from Kill Bill) as one of the blood soaked students, and we anime geeks will probably be familiar with Tatsuya Fujiwara (Light from the live action Death Note movies) as the movies protagonist Nanahara. This is all well in good, but other than the devilishly uninhibited performance by Takeshi Kitano, the real acting in this movie comes from axes in heads, bloody gunfights and exploding severed heads. You’ll realize pretty early on why this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies. It reveals in being nihilistic, seeing fresh faced teens desperately murder each other while the adults stand by stoically in their ironic righteousness.
The Battle Royal Blu-ray comes out today in 2 versions, a standard bare bones edition and the super Battle Royal: The Complete Collection. We didn’t get access to the Complete Collection so we can’t review the special features (Sad Face emoticon here), but the standard edition has a beautiful HD transfer of the unrated directors cut. The Complete Collection sounds cool though sporting a huge amount of special features including a Battle Royale documentary, a behind the scenes featurette, Audition and Rehersal footage and much more.
It’s been a long wait, but thanks to the folks at Anchor Bay we finally have a proper edition of this crazy classic. Just remember though, if you plan on showing this classic thriller to your teenage son or daughter don’t be surprised to hear, “Wow what a lame The Hunger Games rip-off Dad!” Maybe that Kitano guy had a good idea after all.