Battle Royale vs. The Hunger Games
With the release of the fourth and final film in The Hunger Games series currently in theaters, the film adaptations of the much loved book trilogy have reached their conclusion. Whether the same can be said for the discussions comparing The Hunger Games and the previously-released Japanese film adaptation of Battle Royale remains to be seen.
As with the first three films based on The Hunger Games series, which are still being shown on cable TV, Mockingjay Part 2 is unsurprisingly a box office success, raking in over $1 million in its opening weekend. While the Japanese film adaptation of Battle Royale was once slotted for an American remake, the project was put on hold following the release of the The Hunger Games novel series as it would have been overshadowed and seen as a duplicate on Suzanne Collins’ work. Had the American version come into existence soon after the film was released in Japan in 2000, it may well have made a list of best American remakes.
On the surface, the basic premise of each film is the same, that of kids being forced to kill other kids by an evil government regime. In each case, there is one main adult authority figure dictating the scenario, a specific and limited setting, and at least one main member of the group of kids who questions the authority and the moral code of those with the power to force him or her to kill.
In Battle Royale, the main figure (who is the representation of the film’s whole corrupt government) is a teacher who presents the rules of engagement and is found to have personal issues with kids in general – his own offspring in particular. This lends an air of the “games” being more personal for him than for the main figure of President Snow in The Hunger Games, whose only interest is in maintaining power. For Snow, the games in which children kill each other is only seen as a highly effective means of keeping the masses as downtrodden as possible, in addition to it being a means of entertainment for the elite.
The initial setting of Battle Royale is that of an alternate timeline of near-present Japan in a militaristic police state, while The Hunger Games is set in a future, post-apocalyptic North America known as Panem. The settings for the games in each are more similar, with the main difference being that the Battle Royale battles are usually on an evacuated Japanese island, while those in The Hunger Games vary from year to year and are completely manmade and artificial.
The main characters, although of opposite genders, are also similar in their background of self-sufficiency at a young age and in independently forming and following their own moral code. Rigid morals are more apparent in the figure of Katniss Everdeen, who only resists authority in order to survive and to help those she cares about survive. By contrast, Shuya Nanahara is seen as one of the growing group of juvenile delinquents that the games in Battle Royale are meant to try to control because of his interest in rock music, which is banned in this futuristic Japan. The latter’s moral code initially seems more determined by personal needs and wants but change as he learns more about the games and the government that controls him.
In addition, while both stories use the games as a means of terrorizing and thus controlling a general population, the reasons are slightly different for each. In Battle Royale, government experiments are used to supposedly control and quell out of control youth violence and delinquency. In The Hunger Games, the annual tournament is purely an ongoing punishment for a past rebellion and reminder of the power held in the capital.
While each set of contestants is chosen randomly, the children in Battle Royale are chosen as a class group, providing a much more personal note to the violence as they already know each other well going into the killing game. This makes the film’s commentary on morality and mortality more obvious than that of The Hunger Games. Tributes in The Hunger Games, two from each of the twelve districts, are strangers with the possible exception of the two from the same district. This detail of killing those once considered friends in the former, coupled with the much more graphic violence portrayed, led Battle Royale to be considered one of the top Japanese horror films in some circles.
Regardless of which is preferred or personal opinion of whether one copied the other, both films have their merits and places in the current surge of popularity in young adult dystopian fiction. At the same time, neither can claim total sovereignty over theme, as it could be argued that either or both contain elements found in numerous other works of dystopian fiction. This is a fact understood and accepted by those in film-making who believe there are no more original ideas to discover, only new ways of looking at and presenting them.