â€śCould you kill your best friend?â€ť This was the odd and distressing question asked of us by director Kinji Fukasaku in 2000. Before anyone had a chance to wrap their head around it and come up with a reasoned answer, we’d been collectively splattered with the blood of 40 [mostly] terrified school children. For many of us, Battle Royale was a traumatising introduction to Japanese cinema. But, like at a horrific traffic accident, we found ourselves rubbernecking shamelessly as the violence unfolded, catching our breath at every brain blown out with remorseless selfishness or dashed out on seaside rocks in impotent desperation. And while we couldn’t help but wonder what sort of twisted culture could breed such a tale, we couldn’t help but marvel at the pull-no-punches frankness of this bizarre social commentary.
Now the Survival Program is back. No, not in the form of a sub-standard sequel; we’ve already had one of those. In the form of a Limited Edition DVD box set released by Arrow Video. The Hertfordshire-based purveyor of world cinema has spoiled us with 5,000 copies (each accompanied by a numbered certificate of authenticity) stuffed to the seams with special features, alongside two digitally remastered cuts (theatrical and director’s) of the cult Asian classic. For fans of the film it’s quite a Christmas present.
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick plot run-down. It’s the turn of the 21st century. Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa are two of 42 classmates gassed and abducted by their own government and dumped on an evacuated island. They’re there to take part in a televised, state-sanctioned deathmatch, designed to teach Japan’s delinquent youth that answering back to teachers just isn’t smart. Fitted with remote-controlled, exploding collars and furnished with weapons ranging in efficiency from uzi to saucepan lid, those smart enough to survive initiation are given three days to determineâ€”by ‘natural selection’â€”which one gets to see home again. Some, rabbits caught in the headlights, pretty quickly become fodder for the more ambitious and better equipped. Our heroes Shuya and Noriko are determined to find a peaceful solution. But a few special guests, thrown in to keep the game rolling merrily along, whittle down potential allies as fast as they are found.
The complement of special extras accompanying the new Limited Edition DVD box set is generous indeed. DVD staplesâ€”trailers, cast interviews, commentariesâ€”aren’t forced to share a home with behind-the-scenes documentaries, TV spots, premiere footage, film festival highlights, special effects featurettes, rehearsal recordings or choreographing how-tos, all of which get to live in a big, shiny third disc of their own. Some might say this offering isn’t enough. Some might want a fold-out reprint of the film’s original accompanying poster to stick on the wall of their home cinema. Well, you get one of those. Or five limited edition postcards depicting characters from the movie at their most menacing. Yes, those are included too. The most demanding might even insist on a limited edition, 32-page comic book which weaves a complementary tale of two runaway contestants-to-be hunted by the parents of their captured school friends. Well, even those greedy sods shouldn’t be disappointed with Battle Royale: Parents’ Day. It doesn’t match, in length or quality, the 15-volume manga penned by Masayuki Taguchi and Koushun Takami, which expands in glorious, graphic detail on the seriously messed up childhoods which bred the murderous class of 2000. But it’s a nice addition to the bumper helping of underage carnage. If ‘nice’ can ever be used to describe something in which a schoolgirl shoots herself in the face…
The highlight of the package might well be the 36-page booklet containing essays and commentary which set Battle Royale in its social context, explore its philosophy and psychoanalyse its protagonists; a treasure trove of information for die-hard fans looking for confirmation of their deductions or initiates trying to work out whether there could be any intellectual justification for so much gratuitous teenage blood-letting. The 16-page concept artwork booklet is, by contrast, little more than self-promoting pulp; it’s prototype packaging, rather than characters or scenery, that you’ll find rendered in pencil within. But hey, it all contributes to the satisfyingly expensive-feeling weightiness of the whole package.