Battle Royale comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films and Cult Labs. The two cuts are not merely branched from the same disc but are held on separate Blu-rays. Both have a 1080p resolution encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-rays are region free.
The blurb states that these are brand new restored transfers, and I don’t doubt that they are new and restored, but one mustn’t mistake such a claim as being in line with miracles. It still has some dirt that most would recognise as being the same/similar to that which showed on DVDs of the film. On the plus side, contrast is strong, and there is added detail, but this is less apparent when the shot isn’t close-up, but there is some nice depth to the image that we haven’t seen before, particularly in lower light. It’s subtle, but it definitely makes a difference. There is a slight difference between the two cuts in terms of brightness and overall definition (the theatrical cut is certainly better), but detail and clarity on both discs are certainly enough to put your old Tartan DVDs to shame. I shan’t claim to remember exactly what it looked like upon theatrical release, but I do remember noting it wasn’t the prettiest back then in terms of low light detail and sharpness (though it wasn’t the best cinema – many struggled to find a venue it was playing at the time). The improved colours centre around the overall tone, the Blu-ray now falls far closer to the theatrical palette of cool, but not muted, shades that lent an air of reality to the image. Gone to a large extent are the somewhat smudged and warm whites, now the school uniforms (particularly in the theatrical cut) show the blood splatter with far greater effect, particularly in lower light where the DVDs really struggled.
There are a few caveats though - inconsistencies from scene to scene, with some being softer than others, and as such it becomes hard to say this is uniformly wonderful, but it still manages to shine in enough places to make it a worthwhile upgrade in terms of clarity. Both look to have a bit of sharpening in play but it isn’t distracting. Thankfully none of the major noise and similar issues that plagued the various
There are two audio options for each version of the film – Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or Japanese DTS 2.0. I opted for the lossless track for the purposes of this review.
Now this side of the disc definitely shows the benefits of the upgrade to a larger medium. The key areas that have taken a big step up are the dynamic range and the bass. The former helps distinguish the score from the action incredibly well, with multiple layered sounds being distinct, but not jarringly so, from the score. Gunshots ring out with potency and although the rears aren’t overworked, they do add much needed effects when the action kicks in. The centre can drop occasionally slightly lower than the general level, with Kitano’s mumbled delivery being the most noticeable, but it is far from common enough to be a real issue.
The bass, far from being solely deployed for explosions, underpins many of the wonderful musical moments. Often these are low and subtle, but they can rise and build. The drums on The Third Man/Mimura’s Assault now have far more of a resounding quality to them, filling the room with pressure as the track rolls along, and when the violins and flutes start the aforementioned range becomes apparent, the pitch is crisp, clear and wonderfully stable. The action is well handled, and has more punch than you’ve likely heard from your DVDs, when the helicopter lands it now shifts from an overhead cacophony that includes the surround speakers to a foreboding low rumble from the LFE. It could do with a touch more directionality and a few extra discreet sounds to fill out the soundscape when the bullets are flying but the film has always placed emotional and shock impact above action trickery, and on that count this track is a winner.
Theatrical Cut - Disc 1:
Trailer – 720p – 1:51
The Making of Battle Royale: The Experience of 42 High School Students – 720p – 52:32
A strangely artistic “Making-of” at times, that feels like an apt accompaniment to the film as well as a handy insight into the filming process. Lots of footage, lots of quick chats with the cast and most importantly peaks at the working style of the late director, it is mammoth in length and a mighty addition to this set.
Director’s Cut – Disc 2:
Special Edition Theatrical Trailer – 720p – 1:05
A trailer for the “Special version” when it was released in Japan
TV Spot: Tarantino Version – 720p – 0:32
A brief trailer with a couple of snippets of the great chinned one mentioning the film.
Shooting the Special Edition – 720p – 9:01
This shows footage from the reshoots Fukasaku required in order to put together his director’s cut such as the basketball scenes.
Takeshi Kitano Interview – 720p – 11:51
What drew him to the project, what was his character motivation, how did he find working with Fukasaku etc. Kitano has made a lot of the same comments before, as with anyone who has to go through press junkets and the like, but any interview with Beat is a welcome one.
Conducting Battle Royale with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra – 720p – 7:27
October 2000 in Warsaw, composer and conductor Masamichi Amano instructs the orchestra through several tunes, both classical and of his own composition.
The Correct Way to Make Battle Royale: Birthday Version – 720p -3:09
A humorous, special presentation to the director in the guise of the instructional video from the film.
Tokyo International Film Festival Presentation – 720p – 4:37
Footage from the 13th Tokyo International Film Festival and the gala screening of Battle Royale.
The remainder of the extras are on an accompanying DVD which surprisingly plays at 576p and has menu music that swirls in Dolby Digital 5.1.
Premiere Press Conference – 576p – 12:02
Cast and crew, led by Fukasaku and Kitano take to the stage at a special press conference prior to the film’s completion in order to publicise it. The director’s motivations are the main point of interest but the young actors enthuse enough to fill the gap until Kitano then finally speaks to much laughter.
Opening Day at Marunouchi Toei Movie Theatre – 576p – 14:26
12th December 2000, with lines around the block and TV crews eager to cover the first showing, this featurette gives you a little insight into just how anticipated this movie was. As with all such initial screenings, key members of the cast and crew are on hand to impart a few words to the eager crowd.
The Slaughter of 42 High School Students – 576p – 10:09
A mini Making-of, from the opening of the shoot in June 2000 to the last day of the shoot in August, the best of which is watching Fukasaku wandering about dressed in a FILA vest and sideways sun visor that make him look like some kind of part-time Japanese Jimmy Saville impersonator. It is fascinating to see the late director’s style and the way in which he manages such young actors, drawing emotion out of their initially stilted and sterile performances. It goes on to a small montage of on-set jollity that shows the atmosphere around the production and finally a screening on a small TV set for the cast to watch.
TV Ad – 576p – 00:34
A blurry Japanese TV ad for the film.
TV Promo – 576p – 1:49
Slightly less blurred Japanese TV promo.
TV Commercial – 576p – 3:41
Given the length this commercial is more like a proper preview.
Promo 1 – 576p – 0:16
Promo 2 – 576p – 0:37
The Correct Way to Fight in Battle Royale – 576p – 2:35
The wacky presentation of the rules (as seen in the film) played out in full.
Royale Rehearsals – 576p – 7:11
Early rehearsals from June 2000 at the Toei Oizumi Studios, the “first gathering of the 42 students of 9th Grade Class B”. It also shows us the previous year, where Fukasaku, in an unnamed high school, begins research for the project and starts auditioning actors/students. Lots of good early rehearsal footage makes this a great little extra as we get to see the cast and various key scenes take shape.
Masamichi Amano Conducts Battle Royale – 576p – 9:46
A glimpse at the composer overseeing the orchestration of the music al score by the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra. This is a purely musical bonus feature, containing no dialogue or explanations, intended to show the emphasis that was placed on the audio that accompanies the action.
Special Effects Comparison – 576p – 4:17
A look at the original shots and the elements and composites that were overlaid to increase the impact of the effects. This featurette is quite literally bloody marvellous, highlighting just how much effort went into everything, from the various arterial sprays to relatively minor details.
Behind the Scenes Featurette – 576p – 12:09
Lots of clips, interviews with cast and crew and a few titbits thrown in. It’s a fairly run-of the-mill type featurette that outlines the main points for those unfamiliar with the material but is still has enough content to be of interest.
Filming on Set – 576p – 11:00
Lots of good footage from the set, with Fukasaku’s direction style and ability to corral the actors being the highlight. The cast sporadically wax lyrical about the experience and the material but this never derails what is a fascinating look at the filming process.
Trailer Gallery – 576p – 23:09
Trailers for some of Fukasaku’s best, including the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, Street Mobster and Graveyard of Honor. Dear Lord, please bring these to blu-ray!
These being press copies we did not have the benefit of perusing the extra material offered in the final set, but it appears those picking it up will have even more to look over. They promised a 36 page booklet with various interviews, extracts and promotional material, a 16 page booklet with concept art, 5x7 postcards of stills from the movie and finally a fold-out poster.
Battle Royale is an action film in the mould of the best Kinji Fukasaku had to offer. It was at once thrilling, twisted and brutal yet maintained a moral and a thread of humanity throughout. Some of the imagery is iconic, the score is evocative and the combination of the two against a background of innocence lost combines to make an extremely powerful film.
The set of three discs (two region free Blu-rays and one DVD) from Arrow Films and Cult Labs represents a fine addition to the Blu-ray format. The Picture may not be the revolutionary transfer many had been secretly hoping for, but the impressive audio and cornucopia of extras more than make up for any perceived shortfalls in this area.
Limited to a run of ten thousand, these will likely go quickly, so if you’re still making you’re mind up, don’t wait too long!
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