Our Daily Trailer: BATTLE ROYALE
There are a lot of misconceptions about Battle Royale, but the biggest one is probably that the film was banned in the United States as a result of Coiumbine. First of all, as far as I know there are no movies banned in the United States. Some films have been banned in certain municipalities or states, and a couple of films have been suppressed by lawsuits (see The Profit and Yes Men Fix The World), but the United States has never banned a film. Besides, the film played in at least a handful of US engagements - I saw it at the BAM Cinematek in Brooklyn.
So why wasn't Battle Royale widely released in the United States until this year? Some people believe that no distributor would pick it up for fears of lawsuits, should kids start shooting up their schools again. The reality, though, is that Japanese company Toei simply wanted too much money for the distribution rights. In 2000 there wasn't a huge market for this sort of a film; the grindhouse circuit for Asian exploitation cinema had dried up and most foreign films being released were fairly 'high class.' It didn't look like a distributor could make a good profit on a theatrical release under Toei's terms. By the time it became clear that Battle Royale would be profitable in the US the film had already reached its target audience through bootlegs and region free discs; all of a sudden it was an old title.
And there goes that controversy. Of course there's plenty of controversy to go around for Battle Royale; the film was a magnet for controversy in Japan, with the Diet announcing Battle Royale was harmful to teenagers.
The version that finally got a limited theatrical release this year (and is now out on home video) is the extended director's cut, which weakens the film considerably. It's still worth seeing, and I happily hit the Cinefamily when it premiered there (marking the first non-special event theatrical showing of the movie in America). The film set the tone for a lot of gonzo Japanese cinema to come, but Battle Royale - while crazy and almost delirious at times - is much more restrained than what followed. It's a better movie than almost everything it influenced, as well.
As for The Hunger Games... there are similarities, but hopefully this weeks' Daily Trailers have proven that many of the basic elements of the two films are pretty old. And the idea of people killing each other for entertainment vastly predates the cinema - just take a look at the Coliseum, still standing in Rome. "Are you not entertained?" indeed.