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Set in modern millennial meltdown Japan, the 40 strong 15 year-old students of class 2B awake to find their seemingly normal school trip has placed them on an inescapable deserted island with former tutor Kitano (Takeshi Kitano, acknowledging elsewhere that he was hired by Fukasaku precisely to play a version of himself) ushered in to read them the Battle Royale Act: 3 days; one survivor; no rules. Provided with a map, a compass and a weapon, it’s up to each hardy high-schooler to run the gauntlet and eliminate the opposition to survive the game.

Battle Royale: Special Edition
Once this opening exposition is directly dispensed with, what follows is 100 minutes of high-octane adolescent offing action with some genuinely gruesome moments: I challenge any male viewer not to wince during one decidedly demented despatching scene involving a switchblade/genitalia interface. However, while the rise of the body count is both bloody and brutal, the game is merely a plot device to discover the difficult decisions taken by the pupils under pressure, each terrified teen forced to choose as to how to approach the game.

Some enter into the spirit of the grisly situation with gusto, others group together hoping their friendship will stand the strain, yet more seek the only escape by way of the ultimate self-sacrifice.
Exploring many themes afflicting Japan’s shifting society – the disparity dividing different generations, classroom cliques, the collapse of traditionally ordered unity at the expense of individual liberty – Battle Royale has perhaps more in common with another recent film dissecting the disaffection of Nippon youth, the awesome claustrophobic drama All About Lily Chou-Chou, than the Woo or Tarantino movies that Fukasaku’s earlier output has so obviously inspired. Indeed, it’s not without irony that such an incendiary examination of school life strife should be delivered by the former activist, now entering his 71st year. Despite this, the film is fresh and very funny, the, at times literal, gallows humour serves to periodically lighten the exceptionally macabre tone, commendably never resorting to cheap devices designed simply to produce a laugh.

With additional footage afforded to this director’s cut version - mainly consisting of greater character development by way of quiet asides and further reaction shots with an extended ‘requiem’ ending - much more is learned about the characters which increases the sense of loss, outrage or pleasure when the next player meets his or her maker. From the sensitive Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) sworn to protect frightened friend Noriko (Aki Maeda), to shifty would-be saviour Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and Kitano stealing every scene in which he appears, performances from the cast - many of whom too young to legally view the film on it’s release – are uniformly excellent. The only turn that doesn’t quite ring true is that of scheming Mitsuko, an obviously talented Kou Shibasaki wrestling with an unfortunately under-written role but in no way does this detract from the overall piece.

Battle Royale: Special Edition
If you’d only seen the trailer, you’d probably think that Battle Royale, is an ultra-hip guts and guns thriller laced by healthy doses of black humour. And you’d be right. However, it should come as no surprise that from the venerated veteran director Kinji Fukasaku you’ll find some seriously scathing social comment between the schoolkid slayings, raising the bar way above your run-of-the-mill with blood, barbed comment and bullet fest with much more to be explored and enjoyed as the savagery of schooldays is played out in an examination of the generation gap, adolescent awkwardness and growing pains in extremis.

For anyone having had the misfortune to see previous Tartan DVD transfers, from the dismal presentation of Audition print to the quite atrocious treatment of Ring, this remastered anamorphic image framed at 1.85:1 is surely to delight. Skin tones are natural, exterior colours are lush and blacks are deep with good shadow delineation with nary an artifact in sight. In fact, the image is so good, while not being quite reference material, that it’s possible to see through the sometimes ropey composite work.

Subtitles, so long arousing the ire of world cinema viewers for being muddied burnt-in shockers employing decidedly dodgy grammar, are thankfully in this case clearly constructed and by being digitally created are a godsend for Japanese speakers or those who learning the language as they can be switched off. All this and it’s progressive scan too for those so equipped...

Although DTS devotees may find greater sonic satisfaction for this film on other regions, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is perfectly adequate. The soundstage is managed effectively while never being outstanding although later scenes involving gunplay while flames crackle around the room are impressive. Dialogue is clear from the centre speaker yet it did seem a little low in the mix, perhaps due to the soundtrack being a little bass heavy.

Battle Royale: Special Edition
The ‘Making Of’ featurette, clocking in at around 50 minutes, features on the spot interviews with cast and crew members, behind the scenes footage and on-set reports. While the insights from the young members of the cast are often invaluable, particularly with regard to how each approached his/her role in such an extreme script, there’s precious little coverage of Fukasaku himself and the whole thing lacks cohesion. In addition the ‘Documentary’ lasts for little more than 5 minutes and takes almost all of its material from the longer featurette.

The ‘Instructional Video’(3 minutes) is a gloriously demented promotional piece that only the impossibly perky Japanese could manage to produce with a straight face. Featuring excerpts with the character of the Battle Royale Act video, it’s short but interesting.

‘Audition and Rehearsal Footage’ does exactly what is says on the tin and while it’s not the kind of item you’ll view repeatedly, it’s definitely worthy of inclusion to note just how much physical and mental preparation the cast underwent in order to ably fulfil their respective roles, ever aided by the director’s infectious enthusiasm for the project.
The ‘Behind The Scenes’ featurette is one of those shameless promotional items where people connected with the movie gush about how great it all was. Worth seeing once, if only for Takeshi Kitano’s no-nonsense appearance.

The ‘Battle Royale Press Conference’ features more promotional fluff from the main players but is notable, not least as Fukasaku imparts some of his experiences as a teenager in Japan at the close of the Second World War and how this relates to his treatment of the material.
A theatrical trailer, two TV spots (including a rather superfluous 10-second appearance from Quentin Tarantino during which he states his opinion that the film is ‘just great’ – yes, that’s his entire contribution), further rehearsal clips, film festival footage (which includes a very brief speech from each of the leads, Kitano and Fukusaku) and comprehensive filmographies of Fukusaku and Kitano round out the extras package.
While the list of extras is extensive, the quality of the individual sections varies quite considerably and quite a lot of repetition does occur. Although Tartan can be applauded for really making an effort, the whole enterprise is undermined by the lack of a commentary or at the very least an in-depth interview with Fukasaku or even Kitano.

Battle Royale: Special Edition
Tartan have illustrated how good their releases can be if the effort, and no little expense one assumes, is expended although this has bumped up the price tag to a quite frightening RRP. While the film itself cannot be praised highly enough and several online retailers will offer good discounts, the hefty price tag may deter the more casual DVD buyer, thus relegating the film to ‘cult classic’ status and preventing a mainstream crossover which would undeniably be a crying shame.