Film: Battle Royale
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Release Date: 13th December 2010
Review: Adam Wing
Ask any film fan what their favourite Japanese movie is and there’s a good chance you’ll hear the words Battle Royale more often than not.
In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary "Battle Royale" act. It’s a straightforward concept laced with black humour and random bursts of violence, a film in which the late Kinji Fukasaku takes us on a dark journey into the minds of an archaic youth. We fight themes of friendship, trust and betrayal, brought to life by an energetic young cast and a director at the top of his game.
Battle Royale has been available on DVD for some time, but now you can pick up a copy on shiny Blu courtesy of those good folk at Arrow Films. The Battle Royale blu-ray comes complete with two versions of the film, the original theatrical version and the directors cut, not to mention a third disk with a wide array of extras. So even if you’ve seen Battle Royale a thousand times before, you wont have seen the whole picture until you witness it in glorious high definition.
Battle Royale is not only one of the most controversial films of all time; it’s also one of the most entertaining. Ultra-violent, twisted and unforgettable, Kinji Fukasaku’s modern classic is a sparkling jewel in the crown of Japanese cinema. Of course, I’d be surprised if you didn’t know that all ready, surprised and deeply disappointed. It’s easy to forget just how uncompromising this film actually is, which is probably why a rumoured Hollywood remake has never seen the light of day.
It’s easy to forget just how good some of the young cast are too. Everybody remembers Kill Bill’s Chiaki Kuriyama, legend that is Takeshi Kitano as the put upon teacher, and Death Note’s Tatsuya Fujiwara in the lead role, but its female student #11 who steals the show every time.
We all have our favourite characters. Mine just happens to carry a sickle and goes by the name of Mitsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaki). Said to be the most beautiful girl in school, her seductive smile is referred to in the novel as her ‘fallen angel's smile’. She kills a total of nine students, making her the second most dangerous participant in the Program.
In the novel, her childhood is a relentless parade of rape and abuse, and in the manga, an abusive stepfather beats her after her real father runs away. The extended version of the film provides us with a flashback, where a young Mitsuko returns home from school to find her mother drunk, and an unknown stranger trying to molest her in the bedroom. In self-defence, Mitsuko pushes him down the stairs, killing him instantly.
If that wasn’t bad enough, she’s an outcast at school as well. Rumours persist that she sleeps around, and classmate Hirono Shimizu is convinced that she stole her boyfriend from her. There was something else, that’s right, did I mention the fact that Kou Shibasaki looks great in a school uniform? Not that I needed another reason to love her you understand, but it sure does help.
We all have our favourite scenes, and Takako Chigusa’s (Chiaki Kuriyama) morning run is an obvious highlight. Kazushi Niida, a boy she despises because of his immaturity, approaches her on the island. When she refuses to team up with him, he threatens to rape her. If only Kill Bill had been released a few years earlier, he would’ve known that this was a pretty bad idea. She gouges his eyes out and crushes his penis, before finishing him off with an ice pick. Like I say, a pretty bad idea when all is said and done.
For me though, it’s the kitchen scene that walks away with top prize. A group of girls are refusing to kill each other, hiding in an abandoned lighthouse as they try to work out what the best course of action is. After witnessing Oki's accidental death, Yuko blames Shuya for the unintentional bloodbath. When the girls find Shuya and bring him in, she poisons his food. Or at least, that’s the general idea anyway. The food however, is eaten by Yuka Nakagawa, who instead dies rather painfully.
The girls turn on each other in a violent gunfight, maybe it’s just me, but there’s something incredibly satisfying about Japanese schoolgirls and guns. The twist in the tale is played out beautifully, as Yuko survives the deadly confrontation. A lot of the violence in Battle Royale is outrageously over the top, but it’s all the more entertaining for it. The dark vein of humour that runs through the heart of the picture is vital to the films appeal; a quality found lacking in the disappointing sequel that followed after Fukasaku’s death.
The director’s cut of the movie adds dramatic weight to proceedings, providing welcome back-story for some of the main characters. The ending is also extended but with varying degrees of success, the unnecessary epilogues feel indulgent and fail to provide the closure that was perhaps intended. At the end of the day though, the extended version of the film is just another excuse for yet more Battle Royale, and for me that was never going to be a bad thing.
If you’ve yet to see this modern classic then shame on you, Japanese cinema really doesn’t get any better than this. On blu-ray, well, it positively shines. Kinji Fukasaku combines intelligent social commentary with raw unadulterated action, throwing in the occasional Japanese schoolgirl for good measure. We all have our favourite movies, and there’s never been a better time to rediscover one of the all time greats on blu-ray for the first time.