Review for Battle Royale: Limited Edition
A couple of months ago, Arrow Video went and announced that Battle Royale would be getting a 4k UHD release, a new 4k restoration from the original camera negative. It will be a 5 disc set with both versions of Battle Royale, and with both versions of Battle Royale 2: Requiem getting their Blu-ray debuts, and the soundtrack on CD. There will be a standard Blu-ray release as well that mirrors the 4k release. And in the usual perverse irony that accompanies my viewing, I finally find the time to watch the Limited Edition Blu-ray boxset that was released in 2010. I managed to get one of the last copies of the LE four years ago, but it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since.
What’s a millennium without a little social upheaval, and in Japan unemployment and apathy have caused a schism between generations, with the youth being blamed for much of the country’s problems. For that reason, the Millennium Educational Reform Act was ordained, where one school class is selected at random and taken in secret to a deserted island, where they have to battle each other for their very survival. Teacher Kitano’s class is a prime example of disruptive youth, and when he is stabbed by one of his students, he quits. This very same class believe they are going on a field trip, when they are rendered unconscious on a coach. They awaken in an abandoned school room on a deserted island, surrounded by armed soldiers and awaiting them at the head of the class is their old teacher Kitano, the lesson of the day, “kill each other”.
The rules are straightforward; each student gets a kit bag of equipment to complement anything he or she may already have, as well as one random weapon. The weapon may be a machine gun, sword, pistol, or a pan lid or pair of binoculars. They have three days in which to kill all their schoolmates, the last pupil standing wins. If more than one survives, they all lose. They are all fitted with collars that explode if they break the rules, or attempt to remove them, or wander into a designated danger zone. Thrown into the mix are two last minute exchange students, both with ulterior motives to be on the island. But for most of the 42 students on the island, it boils down to a simple question, “Could you kill your best friend?”
The original film runs to 113:51.
The director’s cut disc lasts 121:56.
I missed the first release of Battle Royale, but when I got the 2 disc Special Edition DVD, I noted a rather disappointing NTSC-PAL standards conversion. So when I reviewed the Limited Edition DVD, I was very pleased with native PAL transfer on those discs, obviously mastered from the same source as this Blu-ray release which came out at the same time. But if you’re expecting as massive a leap in quality between the Battle Royale 2010 DVDs and the 2010 Blu-rays as the usual gap between most DVDs and BDs, you’re going to be disappointed.
The 1.78:1 transfer on the first disc is pretty clear, detail levels are good, and the film is consistent throughout. But compared to the DVD, the additional clarity is minimal, colours are on a par with those discs, and the biggest benefit is the native frame rate. There is still an overall haziness to the image, colours never really pop, and the green and blue shades in the palette are pushed heavily. Most disappointing is the contrast, which feels nonexistent. Blacks tend to blue-tinted greys, dark detail can be completely absent in some scenes, and you really see the limits of the transfer in the text captions, which just aren’t sharp enough. There’s even a little banding in some scenes. Just like the DVD release, the Special Edition fares a little worse than the theatrical cut, with a more inconsistent experience, more in the way of softer scenes.
If ever there was an argument for a 4k transfer and restoration of the original camera negative, it would be these old Blu-ray discs.
The one place that the Blu-rays do shine is with the audio. You have the choice of DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and DTS 2.0 Stereo Japanese with optional English subtitles. It’s an action packed and immersive audio track that really puts you in the middle of things. The dialogue remains clear throughout, and the subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos. It’s the music of Battle Royale that really impresses, with an amazing original score, while making evocative use of classical music. You can see why the new release will have the soundtrack CD.
Battle Royale Limited Edition comes with a thick card slipcase. Inside you’ll find three digipacks holding the two Blu-rays and the extras DVD, and two folders containing the physical extras. The spines of all five match in style for consistency.
Disc 1 has the theatrical version of the film on Blu-ray.
On the disc you’ll find the Theatrical Trailer (1:51).
There is also The Making of Battle Royale: The Experience of 42 High School Students (52:32).
Both are presented in 720p, scaled up from SD.
Disc 2 has the Director’s Cut of the Film, and the following extras, again up-scaled.
The Special Edition Theatrical Trailer (1:05)
TV Spot Tarantino Version (0:32)
Shooting the Special Edition (9:01)
Takeshi Kitano Interview (11:51)
Conducting Battle Royale With The Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra (7:27)
The Correct Way to Make Battle Royale: Birthday Version (3:09)
Tokyo International Film Presentation (4:37)
Disc 3 is a DVD in this collection, identical to that in the DVD Limited Edition with a convenient Play All option to preserve your remote control.
The Premiere Press Conference (12:02)
Opening Day at Marunouchi Toei Movie Theatre (14:26)
The Slaughter of 42 High School Students (10:09)
There is promotional material here, a TV ad (0:34), TV promo (1:49) and TV commercial (3:41), as well as two separate promos (0:16) and (0:37).
The Correct Way To Fight in Battle Royale (2:35)
Royale Rehearsals (7:11)
Masamichi Amano Conducts Battle Royale (9:46)
Special Effects Comparison (4:17)
Behind The Scenes Featurette (12:09)
Filming on Set (11:00)
Trailer Gallery (23:09)
There are two booklets in this collection.
Artwork and Concepts offers 16 pages of package design for this LE release.
Essays and Commentary has pieces from Jay McRoy and Tom Mes to read, along with a Director’s Statement, Cast Biographies and Director’s Filmography, as well as an extract from the novel. All in all there are 36 pages.
You get a folded poster, along with 8 decent sized postcards with images from the film. A smaller postcard with the class photo has your limited edition status confirmed on the back.
Finally there is a 36-page comic to enjoy. Note that this isn’t an extract from the Battle Royale manga, rather a Western graphic novel style piece commissioned for the Arrow Limited Edition release.
When I reviewed the DVD Limited Edition of Battle Royale, I was really impressed with the quality of the presentation, especially given the improvement over the first UK DVD releases. You would expect that to mean that the Blu-ray would be just as significant an uplift over the DVD, but in this case, the Blu-ray isn’t that much better. It’s certainly not what I would expect from an HD image, although it is what I’d expect from lossless audio, a definite uptick over the DVD audio, and at the correct frame rate as well. Still, I am glad to finally have this limited edition in my collection for the packaging, the presentation, and most especially the physical extras.
Yet something odd has happened with my perception of Battle Royale, and I find that it’s no longer the film that I recall. It is still an effective dystopian sci-fi satire, and well worth watching, but it’s somehow lost its cachet. One thing is that it used to be illicit. You were a member of an exclusive club if you’d watched Battle Royale, the very idea of school-children pitted against each other in a battle to the death as entertainment had this punk sensibility about it. They tried to ban it in Japan, it was verboten in the US for a while, and even in the UK people spoke about it in hushed tones. And then in 2013, they made the Hunger Games movies in Hollywood. Suddenly these themes are in the mainstream and they are rated 12! It’s like finding out your parents smoke weed. It’s no longer cool.
Of course I might be the problem. I was still in my twenties when I first watched Battle Royale, still of an age when its story and the social satire would be effective, and the world was a different place too, not as divisive or as reactionary. Battle Royale was an allegory, an effective what-if that served as a warning. Now, I’m getting further and further away from its target demographic, the story doesn’t affect me as viscerally, while the satire seems less insightful in a world where Battle Royale seems more prescient than polemic. Increasingly it feels like we’re living in a world where someone would think Battle Royale would be a good idea.
Of course it could be something as simple as familiarity breeding contempt. Of films made post-2000, I think I’ve seen Battle Royale the most often, and the more you watch a movie, the less effective it becomes. It doesn’t help when for this review, I watched the Theatrical Cut and the Director’s Cut in short order. When you know a story and its characters that well, you start seeking the screen for trivialities and background curiosities.
So will I shell out yet again for a new release of Battle Royale? In all likelihood I will, as the transfer on this Blu-ray, while watchable certainly isn’t what you’d expect from an HD presentation. With the film getting a new 4k restoration from the original camera negative for its upcoming UHD release and new Blu-ray version, it should finally do this film justice. But I think it might be hanging around in my to-watch pile for a good few months or so after purchase before I revisit Battle Royale.