Battle Royale Director’s Cut
バトル・ロワイアル (Batoru Rowaiaru)
Japan, 2000, 114’, Japanese
Directed by: Fukasaku Kinji
Screenplay: Fukasaku Kenta
Photography (color): Yanagijima Katsumi
Editing: Abe Hirohide
Art Direction: Heya Kyoko
Music: Amano Masamichi
Producers: Fukasaku Kenta, Fukasaku Kinji, Kataoka Kimio, Kobayashi Chie, Nabeshima Toshio, Okada Masumi
Executive Producer: Hamada Kenji
Cast: Fujiwara Tatsuya, Maeda Aki, Yamamoto Taro, Takeshi Kitano, Ando Masanobu, Shibasaki Kou, Kuriyama Chiaki
Date of First Release in Territory: December 16th, 2000
Harshly criticized on its release and massively influential in the years since, Fukasaku Kinji’s Battle Royale is no longer as divisive as when it first appeared in Japanese theaters in December 2000, but it still packs a disturbing punch, despite all the imitators that have followed in its wake.
Based on a novel by Takami Koushun, the film is set in a dystopian near-future Japan where the government, under the Battle Royale Act for curbing juvenile delinquency, sends a group of 42 ninth-graders to an island. There a sadistic teacher (Takeshi Kitano), tells them that, over the next three days, they must kill each other or be blown to bits by explosive collars around their necks until one survivor is left. Or perhaps none. Given lethal weapons, they begin playing this state-sponsored murder game.
A veteran director best known in Japan for his 1973-74 Battles Without Honor and Humanity series about postwar gangs fighting turf wars in Hiroshima, Fukasaku filmed Battle Royale with his trademark over-the-top violence, giving it a black comic spin and nearly non-stop action. When the film opened in Japan it stirred up controversy, with some proclaiming it his new masterpiece, others condemning it as tasteless exploitation.
Eirin, the industry censorship body, slapped it with an R-15 rating, which meant that kids the same age as its characters could not see it. Gangsters cutting down gangsters was one thing, but to Eirin censors, kids killing kids with guns, knives and bombs was something else.
It was, however, the biggest hit Fukasaku had had in decades, earning ¥3.11 billion ($27 million) at the box office, the third-highest total for a Japanese film that year. It was also widely screened abroad. Fukasaku himself did not have long to enjoy his new international renown; he died of cancer in January 2003, shortly after starting to film Battle Royale II. His son Kenta completed it, though the film was bashed by critics and disappointed at the box office.
Battle Royale, however, lived on, with foreign critics and fans elevating it to instant classic status. In 2009 Quentin Tarantino said, “If there’s any movie that’s been made since I’ve been making movies that I wish I had made, it’s that one.”
He was hardly alone in being influenced by the film. The makers of the smash-hit Hunger Games trilogy owed an obvious debut to Battle Royale, with some fans of the latter charging them with ripping off the Japanese original. Producers in Japan have also appropriated the film’s plotline.
The impact of Battle Royale has extended far beyond films to comics, animation, games and other entertainment media, both in Japan and abroad. The path of the film to pop culture powerhouse has not always been smooth, however. Battle Royale did not screen commercially in the United States, where kids killing kids is unfortunately no fantasy, until 2011. In fact, the Toei studio, which made Battle Royale, has yet to sign a North American distribution deal, with fear of lawsuits and censorship a factor. But Toei did conclude a licensing deal with Arrow Video of the UK, which in 2021 released 4K UHD Blu-rays of the film’s theatrical version and director’s cut. And now a restored Battle Royale screens at Udine FEFF. Somewhere, Fukasaku, who fought his critics as hard as his cinematic teenagers fight each other, must be smiling.
Born in 1930, Fukasaku Kinji began his career at Toei by making the studio’s signature gang films. While specializing in films about the modern-day yakuza, Fukasaku also directed non-gang fare, as the 1972 anti-war film Under the Flag of the Rising Sun. His career-peak were the five Battles Without Honor and Humanity films (1973-74) based on real-life gang wars in postwar Hiroshima. They were acclaimed for their gritty, documentary-style realism. His biggest late-career success was the 2000 dystopian actioner Battle Royale. He started production on Battle Royale II: Requiem in late 2002 but ill-health forced him to turn over the directorial reins to his son Kenta. Fukasaku died on January 12, 2003 at age 72.
1964 – Jakoman and Tetsu
1968 – Black Lizard
1968 – The Green Slime
1972 – Under the Flag of the Rising Sun
1973 – Battles Without Honor and Humanity
1978 – Message from Space
1982 – Fall Guy
2000 – Battle Royale