Battle Royale (Special Edition) (18)

Review by Simon Bell

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc One: Features 8 mins extra footage and an alternate ending.
Disc Two: Special Edition TV spot. Special Edition TV spot featuring Quentin Tarantino. The Making of Battle Royale (50 mins). Battle Royale press conference (9 mins). Instructional video: birthday version. Audition and rehearsal footage. Special effects comparison featurette. Tokyo International Film Festival 2000. Battle Royale documentary (12 mins). Basketball scene rehearsals. Behind-the-scenes featurette (10 mins). Filming on-set (10 mins). Original theatrical trailer. Director's statement. Kinji Fukasaku filmography. 'Beat' Takeshi filmography. Asia Extreme trailer reel.

Coming hot on the heels of an avalanche of extreme-but-eternally-hip movies, more controversy than you could wield an axe at and the release of fellow dystopian satire "Series 7: The Contenders" (2001), Battle Royale's arrival will surely prove to be a defining moment in the cinema of 2001.

Acknowledged by Quentin Tarantino and John Woo as a key influence, veteran director Kinji Fukasaku is internationally known for his 50 plus yakuza thrillers. Here he serves up Japan at the dawn of a new millennium (i.e. the present). With the country in a state of chaos and rebellious teenagers bent on violent anarchy, the government drafts the Battle Royale Act.

Under said new law, a single schoolclass is picked annually, cast abandoned on a deserted island and instructed to kill each other. Simple game. Simple rules. The competition lasts three days and each contestant is given a weapon of varying usefulness. The hitch? Only one may survive.

Beginning with a group of typical, boisterous 9th graders embarking on a schooltrip, the narrative watses no time in setting the pace of the film's remainder. From sharing cookies to a drug-induced sleep, the schoolkids then receive the drill from former teacher Kitano ("Beat" Takeshi, brilliantly deadpan) and are one by one sent to kill or face their own demise, depending on which comes sooner.

What follows, as the game makes it grim progress and terror sets in with blind panic, is a veritable smorgasbord of violence as each student butchers another; a tapestry of brutality punctuated by the playing out of adolescent obsessions (crushes, petty grudges, dreams) while any semblance of normality swiftly disintegrates.

Impossible to take seriously and just as arduous to elucidate in terms of any "Lord of the Flies" allegory, Battle Royale is at once blackly humorous and, possibly, a serious comment on confrontation with death. Told with a visual craftmanship and the plundering of "Now That's What I Call Classical Music 1, 2 and 3", the film is also top-drawer deranged entertainment. Leave your Peckinpah and Kurosawa at home and enjoy the fun.

School's out, but not for long.