Battle Royale (Battle Royale Special Edition DVD)
Could you kill your best friend? ... One Dead. 41 To Go.
Running Time: 144 minutes
UK Certificate: 18
Remember The Running Man? It pitched big Arnie Schwarzenegger as a misunderstood crim forced to take part in a reality TV game show in which a gang of fat Gladiator-types try to slice him up into tiny pieces of schnitzel. Battle Royale is Japans answer to that one a fantastically implausible tale of 40-odd screaming teens trapped on an island and cajoled into killing each other.
Heres the deal: its the not-too-distant future, and Japans got itself into a right old mess. 10 million are out of work and hundreds of thousands of whippersnappers are boycotting school, so for some reason the Government decides to pass an act which looks a dead cert to solve none of the above. Its called the Millennium Education Reform Act (a.k.a. the Battle Royale Act), and involves the annual random selection of a class of 14-15 year olds to be drugged, armed with an array of varyingly-useful weapons, and told the last one left breathing is the winner.
The film focuses on the latest lucky gaggle of teens, and pulls few punches in showing them pick one another off in gory detail. Given that theres 42 of the little blighters it might sound a little tedious but, despite making us sit through practically every death, the late Kinji Fukasakus speedy direction prevents things from ever getting boring. As for the violence itself, its hard to deny that its gratuitous enough to merit the controversy sparked by the film in both its native Japan and abroad. However, its also violence of a distinctly cartoony variety, with OTT levels of blood on show and some heavily-exaggerated sound effects. In effect, the whole things pretty difficult to take seriously but then again that may very well be the point.
Battle Royale is a fascinating watch, but its attempts at bringing us close to the more important characters are clumsy, and at times its almost as if its just trying too hard to kick up a storm. Its key flaw, though, is in its overall premise, which is never explained properly and therefore leaves itself open to a world of nitpicking: the students appear to have no previous knowledge of the game, yet its suggested early on that its given substantial media coverage; only one class a year is selected, which would appear to have very little point in terms of either population control or discipline; it seems unusual that those who are actually attending school would be selected (youd think the possibility of being sent to Death Island would make the average student even MORE likely to boycott school).
Fans of Fukasakus earlier work such as Tora! Tora! Tora! or Graveyard Honour should make sure they catch this, as its an interesting response to the worldwide phenomenon that is reality TV but just dont expect it to make too much sense.
It's Got: Guns, knives, clubs and a saucepan lid.
It Needs: A fairer spread of weapons.
DVD Extras This double-disc special edition bad-boy contains a trailer, stills gallery, filmographies, film notes by Mark Earp Wyatt, Tartan Videos Asia Extreme trailer reel, a collectors card featuring the poster art, a 4-page information booklet, add-on footage, a TV Spot, and a directors statement. If all thats not enough for you, its also bursting at the scenes with featurettes, including a Making Of, a Behind The Scenes, and a special effects showcase. DVD Extras Rating: 10/10
Alternatives:Battle Royale II, Lord of the Flies, The Running Man
Uneven and nonsensical, but not entirely unenjoyable.