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With school children all over the country growing increasingly delinquent, the Japanese government takes decisive action and introduces the Battle Royale Act. The Act sets forth a plan whereby a class will be chosen at random and flown to a remote island, where each student will then be given a weapon and set loose to fight their classmates, each student knowing that only one of their number will be allowed to leave the island alive. When Class B of Zentsuji Middle School are chosen to take part in the massacre, the different students quickly take sides against each other, but Shuya and Noriko form an alliance and try to weather it through together.
For more about Battle Royale and the Battle Royale Blu-ray release, see Battle Royale Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on March 14, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Chiaki Kuriyama, Sonny Chiba, Taro Yamamoto
Directors: Kinji Fukasaku, Kenta Fukasaku
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Battle Royale Blu-ray Review
This high-quality box set should please fans.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, March 14, 2012
Life is a game.
There's a disturbing air of plausibility surrounding the Battle Royale movies. Difficult to imagine such atrocities playing out in the developed world though it may be, there are plenty of things that are almost taken as "normal" by the average person today that would have shocked people fifty, thirty, even ten years ago. It might be a while (and hopefully never) before government-sanctioned youth-on-youth violence is celebrated, but like the old saying says, "never say never." The Battle Royale films, in a nutshell, take a look at a world where race, gender, social class, and other current societal issues have given way to unresolvable issues between the ages. Teenagers have rebelled against adults, and since it's the adults who are "in charge," they decide to have a little fun with the kids, making them kill one another or be killed by means of a sophisticated yet crude bomb strapped around their necks, the slaughter meant as a means of dastardly discipline through fear. Or maybe it's just an "evolved" form of entertainment. The concept of man hunting man, forced or otherwise, may not be new, but the first film, anyway, manages to offer a quality narrative and good action both, while the second does little more than turn to wartime violence to entertain in a package that runs far too long for what proves to be a rather shallow endeavor. Nevertheless, both films are here, the first available in two distinct cuts, complete with a full disc's worth of bonus materials, all housed in a handsome package that replicates the look and feel of a small hardback book.
Battle Royale (114 minutes [theatrical] and 122 minutes [director's cut])
At the dawn of the new millennium, the nation of Japan suffered a calamitous social and economic collapse. Unemployment skyrocketed, students boycotted school, and adults lost confidence in the system and feared the out-of-control youths. In a knee-jerk response to the problem, the government passed the "Millennium Educational Reform Act," or "BR," in an effort to seize back control from the youths of Japan. The program called for one classroom to be selected at random to participate in the "Battle Royale," a government-sanctioned slaughter of youths, by youths. The students are rounded up, placed on an uninhabited island, fitted with explosive collars, provided weapons, and told to kill one another. Disobey, and they die anyway, the bomb tearing their necks away from their heads and bodies. Survive the ordeal as the last boy or girl standing, and live to tell the tale. This is the story of 42 students, three days, and one of the most heinous events in the history of mankind. As the students come to terms with where they are, what they must do, and what their futures do and do not hold, they must either retain their humanity or lose it if they are to survive the game by placing the value of their own lives above those of others.
With Battle Royale, there's the overt violence and the more fundamental social and anthropological underpinnings that both make the movie worth watching. On its surface, the movie recalls any other number of "humans hunting humans" movies, from The Most Dangerous Game to The Condemned. It's certainly a subject that's fascinated moviegoers for some time, to say the least, considering the moral quagmires and opportunities for social commentary. Indeed, films like Battle Royale fall into a much larger subset where themes such as surviving a nuclear holocaust ("Jericho"), life in a combat zone (Platoon), or living in abnormally harsh environments with precious few everyday supplies (Alive) challenge characters to stay true to themselves and hold on to humankind's best, even in the face of the worst. In turn, the audiences are placed in the same predicament, the stories challenging the viewers to think out their own reactions to placement in such scenarios. In essence, the stories ask if dormant animalistic "survival of the fittest" genes kick in when man is removed from a state of normalcy and complacency. Battle Royale takes it a step further, the "game" a result of a societal breakdown, itself something far removed from the normal way of things. That leaves audiences with the classic chicken-and-egg question: is it the students whose consciences should be made to suffer for playing a part forced upon them, or does the blame lie with the adults who put them in a no-win situation out of fear for the very world they have helped to create?
The picture's more superficial elements may be difficult to watch, but the excess violence, in this case, accentuates the themes. Anything less would have diminished the purpose and taken away from the subtexts, even as overt as they may be. To be sure, Battle Royale never shows any restraint; the picture is soaked in blood, blood spilled from any number of violent means. Add in that these are teenagers, not adults, and the commentary suddenly becomes even more pointed and the violence all the more troublesome. Yet the movie maintains a slight humorous underbelly which helps alleviate the impact without ruining it. There's also the quantity of characters who are killed throughout the movie. Most of them remain largely undeveloped, little more than background players in a larger puzzle, and the absence of intimacy eases the blow when the bulk are killed off. This number of students also ensures that the violence comes regularly; someone dies every few minutes in the movie, which keeps it moving fast even at around two hours for the extended cut. It's all rather straightforward, not very ingenious, and quite kinetic, but it works rather well as it builds its themes through the surface violence.
Battle Royale II: Requiem (133 minutes)
In the months following the Battle Royale game in which Shuya Nanahara survived the rigors of the life-and-death contest, Japanese society -- and the world at large -- have further deteriorated. The threat of terrorism looms over the entire globe, and a faction of Japanese youths, led by Shuya Nanahara, have formed a radical resistance group known as "Wild Seven." The group's aim: the end of the inhumane Battle Royale games. Unfortunately, the group's cause has only led to a harsher, meaner, more violent variation on the game. Rather than kill one another off, the unlucky class chosen to participate in Battle Royale II is forced into a crude sort of military servitude where they are given two options: fight or die. With no training, they are sent off to do battle against the hardened and dug-in Wild Seven separatist group. Of course, they fight with the traditional Battle Royale collars, with a twist: if their teammate is killed in action, they, too, will die. The group is made up of a ragtag collection of delinquents, which happens to include Shiori Kitano, daughter of the teacher overseeing the previous Battle Royale contest. With bullets flying, heads exploding, and students dying, can the survivors of the initial push into the Wild Seven stronghold win the day or, perhaps even better, join the resistance movement against the out-of-control adults pushing all the buttons?
The good news is that once the action shifts to the military engagement, Battle Royale II isn't just "more of the same." Major kudos to the filmmakers for not just rehashing the original with new people and new means of slaughter just to capitalize on the original's success. But a different set of rules doesn't make this equal to, or better than, the original. To be sure, this one loses the nuance and meaning of the first Battle Royale, try as it might to the contrary to comment rather openly on the follies of war and its destructive nature not only on the participants forced to play the game but in the world at large. Still, the movie doesn't play with the heavy emotional undercurrent that really sold the original. Even as it trudges through the "war is bad" narrative, it becomes far too jumbled in the literal bombardment of action. The characters are even less developed this go-round, the action never escapes a linear shoot-em-up feel (even as it copies the Omaha Beach landing from Saving Private Ryan), and the humorous underpinnings of the first are absent in this film. Battle Royale II just never really gels; it's decent entertainment, even if it runs too long. The action is generically exciting, but don't expect to feel much of anything after it's over, at least nothing remotely close to the feelings the original picture is sure to bring to the surface.
Battle Royale Blu-ray, Video Quality
It may not be the most visually dazzling picture on Blu-ray, but Anchor Bay's 1080p presentation of cult-favorite Battle Royale is sure to satisfy fans. Though the source shows a touch of wear-and-tear in the form of largely unobtrusive speckles and pops, the image offers a relatively handsome, if not somewhat flat, film-like texture. A light layer of grain is retained, and fine detailing, while never superb, is its beneficiary. Facial and clothing textures hold their own, while woods and little odds and ends reveal adequate minutia. The island's greenery looks good even at a distance, with clumps of trees never appearing smeared or indistinct. Colors are rarely vibrant; those same greens represent the brightest hues, for the most part, save for the splattering of blood on skin and clothes. The dull-mustard school uniforms and dreary, earthy locales never afford the transfer much opportunity to pop, but the brightest scenes do reflect a balanced palette and strong clarity. Skin tones are neutral, and blacks are good. Extremely light banding in a gray sky may be seen in chapter ten, but such issues are largely absent through the whole. While this transfer will neither dazzle audiences with exacting details nor blind them with colorful bling, the stable, filmic appearance earns Anchor Bay's latest high marks.
Battle Royale II: Requiem
The analysis above largely repeats for the sequel. Battle Royale II looks rather good, if not a hair dull. The image never appears razor-sharp, but it's never really soft, either. Fine detail isn't lacking, but isn't extraordinary. Faces and clothes hold up well enough, but audiences won't be left breathless by anything in the film. Colors are fairly bland, never really popping and not all that brilliant by design. There are a few shots that take place in another country where brighter shades appear more often and with far more vibrancy than is ever really seen on the island. The image does enjoy a fair film-like texture. Light grain helps shape the picture and provide it a stabilizing force that plays a big part in solidifying the image through the dimmed colors and somewhat flat details. Pops and wear are sporadic. Flesh tones are fine, but blacks waver a bit, looking normal here, a little washed out there, and sometimes speckled with light noise. As with the first Battle Royale, the sequel's Blu-ray transfer won't dazzle, but this is a steady and film-accurate image that should satisfy most audiences.
Battle Royale Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Battle Royale's Japanese Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless soundtrack (an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 dub is also included) delivers aggressive and immersive action. It lacks that pinpoint clarity of the best tracks, with some sound effects coming off as slightly muddled, but the sum total is very positive. The opening title music plays loudly and largely. Great separation, effortless space, and strong clarity are all evident. Piercing highs and heavy lows play nicely together. Hefty bass rocks the listening area, whether crashing waves along the island's shore or the dominant thud of automatic weapons fire. Gunshots ring out positively from every corner of the soundstage, including, at times, the added back channels, and combined with the lingering power of the shots and the sound of shell casings hitting the terrain, the net effect proves quite enjoyable and largely realistic. Drenching rains saturate the soundstage in one scene and helicopter blades slice through in another, both excellent examples of the sort of seamless surround presentation this track provides. Dialogue is firm and remains grounded in the center channel. This is a rather exciting, full-bodied track that suits the movie very well. Note that the theatrical cut includes only a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack with no English language option.
Battle Royale II: Requiem
Battle Royale II's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack (no English dub is available) sounds fantastic. Like the video quality, it's not always a sonic marvel, but it is powerful and exciting, a real delight and just the right sort of presentation for a movie of this style. Music booms, with heavy lows and plenty of volume at reference level. Clarity is quite good, not perfect, but the entire range enjoys fine accuracy. A deep low end proves a stabilizing force to both the music and sound effects. Explosions thump with precision and terror. Gunfire erupts all over the soundstage, near and far, with startling clarity. The surround speakers are put to use throughout, whether capturing that distant gunfire or recreating a chaotic scene outside a military base where a crowd of reporters try to catch a glimpse at the new arrival combatants, all the while helicopters hover over the action and jet fighters scream from one side of the soundstage to the other. It's a very involved track that really gets the juices flowing. Rounded into shape by center-focused dialogue, Requiem's lossless soundtrack is a winner.
Battle Royale Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Battle Royale Blu-ray collection contains all of its supplements on the included DVD disc and appear in standard definition. These extras are primarily in Japanese and play with English subtitles.
Battle Royale Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Battle Royale collection serves up three cuts of two cult favorites. The controversial first film, while not exactly a slice of original filmmaking, offers audience a quality experience that nicely intermixes both social commentary and general action. The second doesn't scrap the commentary, but it beats the audience over the head with it rather than subtly introduce it into the final product. Requiem, however, is certainly the more technically polished of the two and features almost nonstop military-style run-and-gun action. The Battle Royale Blu-ray collection, as released by Anchor Bay, is largely excellent. The technical presentations are impressive, the supplements are fine but could be more, and the packaging is most impressive. It might not be the Battle Royale set to end all Battle Royale sets, and it doesn't set any new standards for Blu-ray excellence, but fans should enjoy what is a rather good all-around package. Recommended.
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