There’s a lot of excitement around about the release of the new Hunger Games film, Catching Fire. The inspiring series, which sees female protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, competing in a fight-to-the-death TV show against twenty three other contestants, was written by Suzanne Collins, who came up with the idea while flicking through the channels on her television. It’s such a brilliant idea, I’m surprised no one came up with it before.
Actually, someone did.
Back in 1996, a Japanese author called Koushun Takami finished his novel, entitled Battle Royale. The novel was a hit, selling over 1 million copies, and was adapted into a film of the same name in 2000. And what, I hear you ask, was this novel about? Well, it’s about an annual event which sees a group of school children fight each other till the death. Sounds pretty familiar, right?
So, I’ve read The Hunger Games, and saw the first film when it was released. The other day, I was persuaded to watch an English-subbed version of Battle Royale. I’ve seen both films and found them interesting in their own ways. But which one was better: the original or the ‘copycat’?
Battle Royale, for starters, is much gorier and – in my opinion – more interesting. Whereas Katniss had to fight against twenty three strangers, the protagonist of Battle Royale, Shuya Nanahara, must face off against the other forty one members of his class, people he has grown up with. To me, this is a much more devastating scenario. Katniss doesn’t have a time limit on how long she has to kill the other contestants, whereas the school kids in Battle Royale have only three days to kill everyone else, otherwise they all die.
Each of the forty two characters is sent off onto an abandoned island with nothing but a rucksack and a map. Inside the rucksack, each of them has a random weapon which can range from a machine gun to a pair of binoculars. Remember that scene in The Hunger Games where Katniss was stuck up the tree, and the others were at the bottom waiting for her? Well if she was playing Battle Royale, she could have just shot the suckers!
As well as the fact that the ‘Battle Royale’ starts quite soon into the film, the fights are more intense and dramatic, with friends turning against friends and chucking grenades at each other. Each character is also wearing a metal collar which will blow up if they refuse to play the game. It’s pretty tense stuff, which makes The Hunger Games look like a glamping trip!
Now let’s look at The Hunger Games. Susan Collins sets up a futuristic world with an interesting history and clear social divides. The logic behind why the Hunger Games
happen is simple, whereas I’m still not entirely sure why the children in Battle Royale were forced to fight. Something about disrespecting grown-ups, I think? It takes quite a chunk of the film for the Games to actually start, but this allows us to get to grips with the characters and choose who we want to root for. With forty two characters competing in Battle Royale, it was quite hard to pin down the ones you wanted to survive.
The Hunger Games also has a likable, young heroine as the central character, one who is brave and rebellious and competing in the place of her little sister. In Battle Royale, I wasn’t a fan of Shuya. He was quite boring, and spent most of the film running and hiding. Another aspect of The Hunger Games I found better than Battle Royale was the fact that the whole thing was televised. I think this made quite a statement about the world Collins creates, while Battle Royale didn’t have a clear point to it. If no one’s watching, then what was the point of encouraging all that violence?
However, Battle Royale does have one major edge over The Hunger Games: the antagonist. In The Hunger Games, the main threat is Cato: a hot-headed, arrogant guy with a sword. He’s skilled, but we never really believe he’ll kill Katniss. But now imagine if Cato was a psychopath who cannot speak, cannot feel emotions, and actually signed himself up for the Games just for fun? Scary, right? Now give him a machine gun, several grenades, and a bullet proof vest. Now we have the antagonist of Battle Royale: Kazuo Kiriyama. Of the forty two other contestants, he successfully kills twenty five in cold blood. And the guy’s starting weapon was a paper fan. A paper fan!
So, if you wish The Hunger Games had been a little more brutal, with decapitation, exploding necks, Quentin Tarantino-like blood, and suicides, then give Battle Royale a go. It also has a different message from The Hunger Games, as it’s more a satire about how the education system pits youngsters against each other in an attempt to get the best jobs.
It’s a shame not many people have heard of Battle Royale. New Line Cinema were going to make an American reboot of it, but of course everyone will just label it as a copycat of The Hunger Games, even though it actually came first. But despite what everyone may be saying, I think these two films are different enough to stand apart from each other. Maybe in a few years, when Hunger Games hype has died down, we’ll finally get that reboot.