There’s not many genre fans in the United States who do not know of Kinji Fukasaku’s brilliant 2000 film Battle Royale. Which is surprising since it has never had an official release here. Although some retailers have carried imported versions of the film, most notably Tartan UK’s NTSC All-Region edition, no US distributor has dared pick up the film that features a class of junior school students in a near future society who are picked at random to compete in a contest where they must kill one another to survive.
But that’s changing as Anchor Bay has announced that they will be releasing the film on DVD and Blu-Ray on March 20. You can see the trailer below.
The timing of the release shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. Just three days after the Battle Royale hits store shelves, the film adaption of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games opens in theaters. Although she claims to have not heard of the Fukasaku film or the novel by Koushun Takami upon which it was based when she wrote her book, Collins has been criticized by many for the striking similarities between the two. Whether a case of coincidence or not, Anchor Bay is looking to capitalize on the similarities here.
So shocking and controversial it was denounced on the floor of the Diet (the Japanese equivalent of Congress), Battle Royale is actually a savage critique of the Japanese education system and the national drive to succeed at all costs wrapped in the disguise of an action film. The students pretty much react the way they would in any high stress, highly competitive situation (like the Japanese public education system). Although some would try to dismiss the film as crass and exploitive, it does not take away from the damning statement of condemnation that Fukasaku was making.
Unfortunately, the film’s release was only a year after the Columbine High School shootings and no US distributor was going to touch the film. Still, word filtered about the movie through the film community and many it sought it out at occasional festival screenings and through imported home video.
Personally, Battle Royale was one of the first movies I screened for friends back in 2000 at what has become our traditionally weekly movie night. I had read about the film and managedto score a copy of VCD (!) in New York’s Chinatown. It was also one of the first non-Region 1 films I bought following my purchase of an All-Region/ PAL-Converting DVD player. Although I think some of the satire and commentary may be lost on audiences who are not versed in Japanese culture, none of the film’s power and drama are.