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Battle Royale: Limited Edition (2021) (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000216839
Added by: Jitendar Canth
Added on: 9/2/2022 17:22
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    Review for Battle Royale: Limited Edition (2021)

    7 / 10


    This time last year, I had finally got around to reviewing the 2010 Limited Edition Blu-ray release of Battle Royale, which was when Arrow Video went and announced a brand new Limited Edition of Battle Royale, on UHD and on Blu-ray. Both versions of the first film got 4k restorations, and the new release would pack in both versions of the sequel and get new physical extras as well, and the soundtrack CD. Incidentally, this is the first time that the Battle Royale II sequel has had a UK Blu-ray release, and at the time of writing is only available in this collection. While my adolescent appreciation of Battle Royale has faded with middle age, I was still driven to double dip; the original HD presentation of the film wasn’t the greatest. I try not to watch the same film twice in the same year, and put the new set at the bottom of the to-watch pile. I never thought it would happen, but I’m actually running out of new Blu-rays to watch. I’ll have to move onto unwatched DVDs next. Some of those are approaching 20 years without being watched!

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    Physical Packaging and Extras

    The new Battle Royale Limited Edition comes presented in a nice, thick card slipcase, which takes a white approach to the artwork. There are five digipacks in the case, one for each movie disc, and one for the soundtrack CD. A sixth digipack isn’t actually a digipack, but a thin box which contains the Battle Royale Trump Cards. Including one card for the rules of the game, there are 42 cards featuring the characters, and their vital statistics.

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    In the disc 1 digipack, you’ll find a 52 page booklet with cast lists for both films, although the essays, two new and one from 2010 are for Battle Royale. There is a director’s statement as well as a newspaper interview with Kinji Fukasaku from 2001. There are also plenty of film stills and production imagery in the booklet.

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    The disc 2 digipack also holds a reversible foldout poster.

    The soundtrack CD is that which was separately released originally, and is getting pretty scarce on e-tailer websites. The CD runs to 71:06 and comprises 23 tracks. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a track listing in the booklet or the packaging, but the Internet is your friend if you want to know what is what. It’s a great soundtrack, and an excellent addition to the collection, although the end theme by Dragon Ash is notable by its absence.

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    A big draw to this release is the 110 page hardback book Kinji Fukasaku: Man of Rage by Tom Mes, a detailed look at the director’s film career.

    There’s also the usual blurb sheet that comes with the set, here in thin card, which you can remove from the back and store in the case along with all the other goodies.

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    Introduction: Battle Royale

    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”.

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    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 Theatrical Version on disc 1 runs to 113:51.
    The Director’s Cut on disc 2 lasts 121:56.

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    Picture: Battle Royale

    The Original Theatrical Version on Disc 1 gets a 4k restoration of the original camera negative which you can read more about in the booklet with the first disc. It’s like night and day when compared to the previous Blu-ray release, which looked more like a DVD upscale. This time around the transfer looks properly filmic, with rich consistent colours and with excellent detail. There’s no sign of compression or the like, and the odd soft looking scene seems to be an issue with the original source. One issue is contrast somewhat lacking in darker scenes, or day for night shots. But this is how Battle Royale should always have been in HD. The Special Edition on Disc 2 has a 4k restoration from a duplicate negative according to the blurb in the booklet. There’s not a lot between the two versions, and I feel like the Special Edition was a smidge softer. It’s far more likely that it’s a psychosomatic perception, and that you’ll have to watch the two films side by side on UHD to actually see a difference.

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    Sound: Battle Royale

    The Blu-rays really do shine with the audio. You have the choice of DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and 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. I still wish that the end theme by Dragon Ash would get lyric subtitle translations. Battle Royale Special Edition has the same audio options, but the surround track seems to have been reworked for the SE, a little more immersive in the sound design, and a lot more LFE oriented when it comes to explosions and action.

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    Extras: Battle Royale

    The discs boot to animated menus

    Disc 1

    Here you’ll find the new material for Battle Royale.

    There is an Audio Commentary from Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp.
    Coming of Age: Battle Royale at 20 lasts 42:25 and is a retrospective featuring notable film journalists.
    Bloody Education: Kenta Fukasaku on Battle Royale lasts 34:59.

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    Behind the Scenes Featurettes repeats some extras from the previous release.

    The Making of Battle Royale: The Experience of 42 High School Students (50:26)
    The Slaughter of 42 High School Students (10:10)
    Behind the Scenes (12:11)
    Filming on Set (11:02)
    Conducting Battle Royale at the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra (7:08)

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    Disc 2

    There’s more of the vintage content for Battle Royale, and the Special Edition here.

    In On Location Interviews and Featurettes...

    Shooting the Special Edition (8:39)
    Takeshi Kitano Interview (11:52)
    Royale Rehearsals (7:12)
    Masamichi Asano Conducts Battle Royale (9:47)
    Special Effects Comparison (4:17)

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    Premieres and Press Conferences

    Premiere Press Conference (12:04)
    Tokyo International Film Festival Presentation (4:28)
    Opening Day at the Marunouchi Toei Movie Theatre (14:27)

    Battle Royale Instructional Videos

    The Correct Way to Fight in Battle Royale (2:36)
    The Correct Way to Make Battle Royale: Birthday Version (3:04)

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    Trailers and TV Spots

    Here you’ll find one Original Theatrical Trailer, two TV Spots and two Promos for the original version, and for the Special Edition, one Theatrical Trailer and two TV Spots. There is also a Kinji Fukasaku Trailer reel, which offers 30 minutes of yakuza action.

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    Conclusion: Battle Royale

    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. And finally, the new Blu-ray release gives the film the uplift to HD that the original Blu-ray release missed out on. It’s a very satisfying experience when it comes to the audio and visual aspects of the presentation.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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. When you know a story and its characters that well, you start seeking the screen for trivialities and background curiosities.

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    This Blu-ray release finally presents the film in high definition the way it deserves to be, with Arrow giving the film the kind of restoration that modern boutique labels are apt to do, with niche foreign cinema. Those foreign production companies have also realised that they are on to a good thing if companies like Arrow, Eureka, and 88 Films are willing to shell out for those restorations, as they wind up getting the cleaner transfers as well. The question now remains, having quadruple-dipped on Battle Royale over the years, do I want to get it on UHD as well? Ask me again in 10 years.


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    Introduction: Battle Royale II

    Three years have passed since the events of Battle Royale, and the survivor Shuya Nanahara is now a wanted terrorist, who with his band of fellow teens has declared war on adults, and has been attacking the state at every opportunity. Shiori Kitano, daughter of the teacher from the first film has sworn to avenge her father and has enrolled in the Battle Royale programme. She ends up transferred to a school full of delinquents and is the only one unsurprised when a school coach trip ends up at military compound.

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    Facing the terrorist threat of Nanahara, the government has now enacted the Battle Royale II act, and instead of facing each other, the children will be sent to hunt down the terrorist group, holed up on a distant island. There are a couple of other changes too. They are all armed with weaponry worth the name, and now the lethal collars are paired, step too far away from your partner and you die, and if your partner is killed, you will soon follow them into the afterlife.

    The theatrical version, Battle Royale II: Requiem is on disc 3 (132:49)
    The director’s cut, Battle Royale II: Revenge is on disc 4 (151:50)

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    Picture: Battle Royale II

    Battle Royale II: Requiem gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on discs 3 &4. Unlike the first film, which gets a whole lot of blurb regarding its transfers on the first two discs, I can find nothing regarding the transfer or restoration applied to the second, so I can only assume that Arrow merely recycled what previous transfers that they could get. The good news is that it is proper HD, a fairly decent transfer with good detail and with no signs of compression. Compared to the first film in this collection, it is lacking, a little soft and with unimpressive contrast, with darker shades tending more to grey-blues rather than genuine blacks. It is better than the DVD release, although the aspect ratio does suggest that there has been some degree of cropping (or open matte). Battle Royale II: Revenge seems to share a transfer with Requiem; certainly I couldn’t see a difference.

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    Sound: Battle Royale II

    Both Requiem and Revenge give you the option of DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with English subtitles. No issue with the audio, with the surround impressively immersive, making the most of the action. There are plenty of explosions and gunfights in this film almost burying the music soundtrack. The dialogue is clear, as conveniently the bullets stop flying when someone has something meaningful to say.

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    Extras: Battle Royale II

    The discs boot to animated menus.

    Disc 3

    New for this release is Bloody Graduation: Kenta Fukasaku on Battle Royale II, which lasts 27:58.

    The vintage content begins in On Location Interviews and Featurettes.

    Behind the Scenes of Battle Royale II (13:21)
    Rehearsals (7:44)
    Behind the Scenes Rehearsals (16:59)
    War and Struggle (4:18)
    The Recording of the Music Score (11:38)
    Happy Birthday Kinji (6:17)
    Camera Test (1:34)
    Alternate Piano Scene (4:37)

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    In Premieres you get...

    Opening Gala With the Orchestra (17:32)
    Battle Royale II Premiere (12:50)

    There are 3 Theatrical Trailers, 1 Teaser, and 4 TV Spots, and to top it all off, an Image Gallery.

    Disc 4 offers just two extras...

    A Tribute to Kinji Fukasaku (3:33)
    Kinji Fukasaku’s 73rd Birthday: A Speech by Kenta Fukasaku (14:43)

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    Conclusion: Battle Royale II

    I must have been in a good mood the first time I reviewed Battle Royale II: Requiem, either that, or coming off the back of the first film, I was looking for anything that could match its controversial impact. Even then I was unimpressed with Battle Royale II, marking it as mediocre at best. Watching it again now, and having lost that rebellious adolescent fascination I once held for the first film, I can only see Battle Royale II: Requiem as simply a bad film. Worse than bad, it’s actively awful, taking what was so good about the original story, and flushing it down the toilet in its desire to be a politically relevant polemic. Battle Royale II has much to say about the war on terror, and US interventionism post 9-11, and meaningless frivolity such as story and character be damned.

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    If you were expecting more of the same as Battle Royale, then you would be disappointed. While on the surface it promises the same kind of black humour and wit, it fails to deliver, indeed the Battle Royale premise is ditched very early, the students have to work as a team against the terrorists, and they are all given assault weaponry and body armour. There’s no room here for inventive homicidal tendencies. There’s no opportunity to get to know the various characters either, as they are for the most part faceless cannon fodder that drop like flies. Half of the kids are lost during an assault on the island’s beach, an obvious homage (I’m being polite) to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, complete with hyper-sharp images, shaky camera work and plenty of faceless casualties.

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    The main characters are pretty faceless too, especially Tatsuya Fujiwara reprising his role as Nanahara, who is supposed to be a hardened terrorist leader, but just seems to have had half his vertebrae fused. Ai Maeda as Shiori Kitano barely registers, despite her supposed desire for vengeance. Indeed the only performance that really makes an impact is Riki Takeuchi as this class’s teacher. That isn’t in a good way either, as he overacts his way through the entire film, full of grand gestures and histrionics that make him seem more like a game show host. This is in stark contrast to Beat Takeshi who in the first film gave an understated performance layered with subtext, which was the lynchpin of Battle Royale. Actually Takeuchi’s performance drowns out the overacting from the rest of the cast. Battle Royale wasn’t always subtle when it came to performances, but compared to the sequel it’s a master-class in understatement.

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    Terrible storytelling, overly political to the point of distraction, Olympic medal-winning overacting, and overlong, with a broken premise, Battle Royale: Requiem is best avoided. But at least this time it can be avoided on a half-decent Blu-ray release. You might think that Revenge would help, after all with another 20 minutes of footage, that would offer 20 minutes of character development and background in a film where the cast drop like flies in the first hour. I have to say that there is an aspect of the film which does benefit from this, little moments of space to breathe between the mayhem, and more opportunities to touch base with the first film. But in the grand scheme of things, what you really get is 20 more minutes of a film with an utterly broken premise, and 20 more minutes of excruciating over-acting.

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    In Summary

    Battle Royale is an iconic film from the start of the 21st Century, which still manages to make an impact even though the formula has been repeated and revisited by many lesser films since. I do feel that its strongest impact is with audiences closer to the age of its protagonists, but it is still a watchable piece of entertainment. This new Blu-ray release is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous Blu-ray release, especially when it comes to its transfer, although given the differences between the physical extras, you might want to hold onto that first Limited Edition release anyway. Certainly I prefer the first box-art. But this release does give you so much more when it comes to that Tom Mes filmography of Kinji Fukasaku, a substantial hardcover book, and the excellent soundtrack CD, well worth many a listen. The downside is that you have to live with two versions of the derisory sequel, Battle Royale II. The upside is that no one is going to force you to watch them, but Arrow should have given buyers a rebate for having them take the discs off their hands.

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