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Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 16:03

Finally making it’s US debut after 12 years of false starts, Kinji Fukasaku’s “BATTLE ROYALE” can finally be recognized for what it truly is: one of the most influential films of the past decade. Now available from Anchor Bay in a ‘Complete Collection’ that brings with it the original, a far-less-satisfying director’s cut, and the sequel “BATTLE ROYALE: REQUIEM”; Fukasaku’s masterpiece can finally be seen without the aid of bootlegs. A stirring parable about a high-school class who, in a economically-desperate future, are sent to an island and forced to kill each other one-by-one until only one man or woman is left remaining; the influence of “ROYALE” on works as disparate as “KILL BILL” and “THE HUNGER GAMES” cannot be measured. Provocative, funny, violent, and aided by a script that somehow gives equal attention to most of the students while also displaying the well-thought out minutia behind the narrative; this “BATTLE” can’t be missed.

Director Fukasaku used all the tricks in his arsenal on this one; it seems written directly for his direction (despite the fact that it originates from a well-known manga). His fetish for on-screen text (eat your heart out, Wes Anderson) is placated with the way he stages the free-for-all as a sports event. His constant interest in shifting loyalties (as seen in his multiple yakuza series’) is sated in the way the kids form alliances; and are then forced to turn on each other. And obviously, the narrative obviously satisfies the bloodlust that is apparent in all his films. This is Kinji Fukasaku’s style at its most defined. It’s not often an auteur is said to be at the top of his game during his final film, but the claim could be made here – and I wouldn’t argue against it.

Unfortunately, my unabashed enthusiasm does not extend to the Director’s cut – which is the only cut available in the stand alone DVD and Blu-ray – or to the sequel, “REQUIEM”, that is included here (after Kinji’s death, “ROYALE II” was directed by his son.) The sequel is an ideological mish-mash of the highest order; undoing the cleanliness of the original’s construction while also indulging itself in endless faux-philosophical digressions. And the director’s cut, with the exception of a single excellent scene (I won’t spoil it, but it provides a backstory for fan favorite Mitsuko), is a total downgrade: extra scenes mess up the previously stripped-down flow of the movie, and CGI blood spurts actually make the violence feel less visceral than before. Stick to the original.

And to do that, you’re going to need to buy the ‘Complete Collection’, which retails around $30. It’s a bit steep for one good (actually, great) movie and two bad ones, but an extra disc of special features goes a long way towards soothing that problem over. And trust me – the theatrical cut of “BATTLE ROYALE” is the only way to see the film. You can read it as a social commentary, a character piece, or perhaps even just as a genre exercise – but any way you slice it, (and despite all the rip-offs) it’s truly a one-of-a-kind film.

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