Back around 2001-ish a friend handed me a tape and said ‘You have to see this,’ and that was my first exposure to Battle Royale [M] (2000), the insane satire directed by Kinji Fukasaku about kids snatched after graduation and sent to an island where they’re forced to kill each other until one left standing is celebrated in the fascist media as the winner.
Fukasaku’s film, like the superb novel by Koushun Takami upon which it was based, isn’t a media satire but of a restrictive government that uses shock to control the population’s youth into behaving properly. Takami’s template of kids killing kids proved popular in print (the book is wonderful), in graphic form (the graphic novel series is even richer in detail than the film), and film, with the latter being reissued in a slightly longer version (dubbed the Director’s Cut or Special Edition) to clear up some character backstories and boost the gore with digital ‘wetening.’
This kind of augmentation and theatrical reissue of a film in a modified form is pretty rare. The earliest native correlation is Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), where the film’s running time was not only boosted for its second theatrical run in 1980 as a re-branded “Special Edition,” but given a new ending. A slight variation occurred in 1978 when Saturday Night Fever (1977) was recut to tone down adult-ish content to a PG rating and make more money (which it did). Whether Spielberg started a trend is hazy, but while theatrical reissues of newly expanded films are highly uncommon – the few examples I can recall are The Abyss: The Special Edition (1989 / 1992) and ‘Extended Editions’ of The Lord of the Rings cycle (2001-2003) – they’re de rigueur on home video because the studios use the venue to appease directors wanting to release their vision of a film that might run longer, have an extra “fuck”, an expanded meandering pointless subplot with disposable tertiary characters, a longer decapitation scene, and / or more boobies.
In spite of its domestic success and the slow wave of home releases in South Korea and England, BR never made it to North America, with the popular consensus being a sale price too high for distributors. The rumours are simple: studio Toei knew they had something special, and wanted premium dollars for territorial rights, and the no wavering meant the film remained unavailable in Region 1 land for 12 years – which is frankly ridiculous.
The options were Korean Region 0 imports (great picture, inaccurate subtitles, and no English subs for the Japanese extras) and British Region 2 release (great subs, meh transfer, meh extras). You could eventually buy the Korean release in Toronto specialty shops, and I recall one that even sold bootlegs (though whether they were homemade or ‘imported’ is unknown). You could also buy it cheap from one Asian distributor, but I remember the hubs were poor and every DVD came scuffed with an intricate star pattern (and yet, they still played).
We had imports, copies, and bootlegs, and that was it.
(This was the reality until the film finally emerged as a domestic release from Anchor Bay, the label that reportedly express the greatest interest in acquiring North American distribution rights. The film played twice to sold out crowds at the old Ontario Cinematheque – now part of TIFF – but that was the extent of its theatrical penetration in Toronto.)
Then the trailer of the sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem [M] (2003) appeared online, and it looked amazing: a riff on Saving Private Ryan (1998) with kids landing on a beach to start a new kind of combat, except early opinions stated the film was terrible. Its flaws are rooted in bad creative decisions; its existence is more to meet the demands of a hungry fan base and greedy studio wanting more BR glory; and the person responsible for its failure is writer Kenta Fukasaku, who took over the production and directorial reigns when father Kinji passed away during pre-production & rehearsals.
BR II did receive its own solo video release, but it’s now widely available as a ‘bonus’ item in two-fers and sets like Anchor Bay’s Complete Collection, because it’s the sequel fans feel compelled to own but would never buy at full price, and will never watch again.
I uploaded reviews of the two Battle Royales this past Friday, alongside a review of The Hunger Games [M] (2012), a really interesting appropriation and expansion of Takami’s world with more media satire than onscreen violence. (This blog’s delay is due to a number of factors that aren’t worth nattering about. Well, maybe later.)
Lastly, and somewhat related to fascist worlds and delusional regimes, the BBC reported the first pictures of the Ryugyong Hotel’s interior were published, but it’s a bit of a cheat because the photos of the bare concrete floors and pillars are of the front pavilion.
Still, this means there’s a chance more images from what’s been dubbed the ugliest building in the world might materialize, since tour groups are reportedly being allowed to enter part of a giant building the North Korean government initially lauded and cited proudly on official maps… then pretended never existed when funds to complete the monster ran out… and years later, slowly acknowledged again when an Egyptian firm bartered cell phone rights for the cost of finishing the glass cladding and fixing vital structural things on what resembles an alien glass bat rising 105 stories above the pastel-coloured buildings of Pyongyang.