Battle Royale Review
Battle Royale has already split audiences down the middle - half love the film and it's style while others loathe it. It's the sort of film that would never come out of the US or pretty much any 'Western' country.
Battle Royale takes the concept of 'Reality TV' to the extreme, this is 'Survivor' with the aim being to actually survive. A class of 9th grade Japanese children are hijacked to fight the 'Battle Royale' - a fight to the death that only one person can survive. Each is given their own 'weapon' - some conventional such as knives and guns while others are not quite so conventional.
Before watching the film I was expecting a film filled to the brim with violence and gore. Instead what we have is something that is not just this, but also thought provoking and even at times quite funny. Despite the fairly heavy first impression, there is quite a streak of black humour throughout the film, for example the 'training video' that introduces the children to their fate is very much like something out of Starship Troopers. In fact the whole film feels and works out like a very violent satire.
Some of the impact the film has obviously comes from the fact that those doing the killing are just children. They start out as classmates and friends but end up fighting against each other just to live. Battle Royale is violent in the extreme - there's no doubt that if violence isn't something you like, then this film will leave a sour taste in your mouth. Pretty much all of the deaths are graphic and there's no real let up on the violence from the start. That said, if the violence and gore doesn't bother you then just a little scratching beyond the surface does reap rewards. Some have commented that the film is 'cheesy' - especially the actors who play the school kids, but then again I didn't feel this at all.
This Region 3 disc was released in Hong Kong by Universe. It can be picked up for well under £10 from somewhere such as DDDHouse.
Unfortunately the picture on this release leaves a lot to be desired. First up it's non-anamorphic NTSC that really isn't a good way to start off! This is compounded by the fact that the image itself seems very soft for much of the film and lacks any sort of detail or visual punch. There aren't any digital artefacts and the print itself is in pretty good condition, but the inherent limitations of the non-anamorphic picture make this disc very disappointing, especially for such a recent release. The only thing really going for the picture is the colour that is nice and vivid - other than that it's hard to be very positive!
Thankfully, Universe more than make up for the mediocre picture by providing two excellent surround soundtracks. Both are presented in the original Japanese.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is superb in it's own right with a well defined soundstage which makes effective use of all five speakers and the LFE from gunfire an the like makes ample use of the subwoofer. However, while the DD5.1 soundtrack is superb in it's own right, it is firmly trashed by the DTS track also provided. This is a step up again with even more in the way of enveloping surround action. Even better definition of the whole soundstage and even more depth to everything.
Whichever soundtrack you make use of, you wont be disappointed.
Thankfully, the subtitles have been placed so that they're perfectly viewable on a widescreen TV. There are a few minor grammatical errors and a couple of spelling mistakes, but on the whole there's nothing hear to worry about.
The extras are fairly limited - we have a biography/filmography of Takeshi Kitano that is presented in both Japanese and English. It goes into very little depth and there's far more detailed information elsewhere - however as a brief introduction it's adequate.
The theatrical trailer is in Japanese with Chinese subtitles - this isn't really a problem as the film is much more visual and therefore it's quite easy to make out what's going on. The trailer is presented in a ratio of 4:3.
Finally there's a brief trailer for Tales of the Unusual.
Battle Royale is a film that certainly won’t appeal to everyone. The level of violence is much greater than what most Western audiences are used to, but once you get over this hurdle there is actually a lot to enjoy. The DVD itself is fairly lacklustre but the excellent soundtracks elevate the disc from mediocre to adequate - if only the picture quality was a little better!
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