Let’s face it, it’s really hard to be completely original in Hollywood anymore. There are certain cliches and ideas that are used multiple times in multiple movies- the trick is to use them in a way that is original or new and interesting. Here in Film Fights, we like to look at those similarities and compare them in a “who did it better” scenario. And what better way to start than with two of the arguably most similar movies, based around the idea of children killing each other, Battle Royale (2000) and The Hunger Games (2012).
*Disclaimer: Both of these films are based off books, but I am not here to compare the books to each other, only the movies will be judged. That being said, if I make an argument that the book explains in greater detail, I will not apologize for calling it out. A movie should not assume that all its viewers are familiar with the material of the book and if their portrayal suffers because of it, that is on them. Just because Harry Potter was a popular series did not mean that everyone who walked into the theater would have read the books, and the same principal applies here.
Firstly, an introduction to both films:
Battle Royale (2000)
At the turn of the millennium, the nation of Japan had collapsed due to juvenile delinquency. Fearing the youth, the adults cast the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the Battle Royale Act, in which a ninth-grade is chosen at random to be sent to an island for three days. Students are given a bag with food rations, water and a random weapon, and with a few minor rules, are sent out to kill their classmates- at the end of the three days, there may only be one survivor, unless they all die. Action, Drama, Sci-Fi. Not Rated by the MPAA for blood, implied sexual scenes, violence and profanity.
The Hunger Games (2012)
In the futuristic country of Panem, a law has been enacted among the 12 districts where two children, one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, are randomly chosen to participate in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death between all of the tributes of the districts on live TV. Katniss Everdeen of district 12 volunteers to take her sister’s place in the games and must prepare not only to fight for her life, but to play the politics of the Capitol in order to help her win. Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi. Rated PG-13 for violent dramatic thematic material and disturbing images involving teens.
With the basics covered, let us begin Film Fights!
I have to admit, I was actually a little disappointed with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) while watching The Hunger Games. I’d heard so much about what a badass she was that I was expecting a little more character- she ended up being a little snarky and standoffish, which would have been understandable under the circumstances, except that she would then break this pattern to take care of Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) or Rue (Amandla Stenberg), which made her seem poorly written. I actually started rooting for the boy from Rue’s district rather than Katniss, which I’m pretty sure was not the intent this movie had.
That being said, her flaws still make her interesting (I was actually really happy that she doesn’t hit the mark with her bow and arrow every time) and she is still more fun to watch than Battle Royale’s female lead Noriko (Aki Maeda), who basically functions as Cinderella in a school uniform. While Noriko manages to go through the game without compromising her innocence, she doesn’t do much else either, other than connect the audience to backstories of several other characters. Male lead Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) spends most of his time taking care of her, which makes him a little less fun, and Mitsuko (Ayana Noguchi), who takes an active part in playing the game, is given less importance though far more interesting to watch. Battle Royale is less focused on characters than The Hunger Games, choosing more to focus on the game itself and how it affects different groups of people, so you spend less time with each person. However Noriko and Shuya are given the majority of the screen time, and I would like to see a little more from their characters than we were given.
Winner: The Hunger Games
Though both games revolve around the government trying to control those they believe to be rebellious and threatening, both games are played under opposite intentions. President Snow of The Hunger Games states that hope is the only thing stronger than fear, and that a little hope is effective, as long as it is contained. Instead of just executing people every year right away, he offers 24 people to opportunity to go home again, giving them (and those watching them) a little bit of hope. Battle Royale does the exact opposite- they put a group of students into the game to crush hope and to inspire fear in them, hoping that the fear will keep them in their place. The teacher in charge of the games states that the game is meant as a test- “Life is a game, so fight for survival and see if you’re worth it.”
Both plans have their flaws because they require a really delicate balance- too much hope or fear and those you seek to suppress will rise against you, especially when you’re mainly focused on one group. The Hunger Games loses its hope challenge when you get to the outer districts, like Katniss’, because most of them have no hope for any of their champions. Over all I think that Battle Royale meets their goal better- students who start with hope (hope that they won’t have to kill their classmates, hope that everyone can make it off the island alive) are quickly kicked down and killed, and by the end of the game the survivors are left with more fear than rage. The Hunger Games doesn’t really seem to inspire hope or fear- just resignation and an almost Mardi-Gras-like excitement. Winner: Battle Royale
Winning the Game:
Both movies require for there to be one winner at the end (or none, depending on how you play), but there are plenty of differences in how you get there. The Hunger Games, for example, has no set timeline. In Battle Royale if more than one person is alive by the end of day three, they all get blown up via a collar attached to them before the game starts (these are also the trackers, voice monitors and another incentive for the kids to follow the rules). As far as I can tell, Katniss and her competitors are basically able to take their sweet time- the Gamemakers might speed things along if the crowd gets bored, but during one scene Rue points out that Katniss was unconscious for two days. That seems like a really large chunk of time that nothing’s happening, especially since most kids died in those first ten minutes.
I also find it annoying that if you get sponsors, you get stuff to help you win. Yeah yeah I know this is a game show basically, but I don’t understand how the Capitol is enforcing the lesson (don’t rebel again guys) by letting these guys have freebies. It just seems like leaving these kids to their own devices and letting them battle it out is all well and good, just make sure you have a back-up plan in case things take too long or they do exactly what Katniss did and find a loophole.
Winner: Battle Royale
This always seemed adorable to me- in Battle Royale, each student is given a bag at the beginning of the game with food, water, a map, and a randomly chosen weapon. Some students get things like grenades and machine guns, some get useful items like scanners to track each other or a bullet-proof vest. And some, like poor Shuya, get pot lids.
Not even kidding. This poor guy got a pot lid to defend himself against 40 other students with bullets. And, sadly, I find this hilarious.
In The Hunger Games, as far as I could tell, there were no useless supplies. The Gamemakers put in anything that the tributes have demonstrated a decent amount of skill with- Katniss pointed out she didn’t know if there would be a bow for her, but let’s face it, after she almost shot the lead Gamemaker in the head of course there was going to be a bow, and where’s the fun in giving everyone equal footing? Winner: Battle Royale
(As I post, I’m starting to realize I’m sounding a little sadistic. But hey, we’re all voluntarily watching movies about kids killing other kids, so we might as well embrace the gore.)
For all of Battle Royale’s excellent planning, someone was stupid enough to leave bomb-making materials on the deserted island they used for the killing fields. Granted maybe they were hoping the students would use them to blow each other up, but they also left them computers to use to hack the system. Put the two together and you’re just asking for one of these groups of killing teens to try and get back at you. The most the Battle Royale officials did to the environment was to declare “danger zones”- announced at different points during the day, if the students were in a “danger zone” at a certain time, their collar would explode and kill them.
Now, The Hunger Games officials are giving these kids exactly what they want them to have, so they never have to worry about them potentially gaining control of the fire-starting machine. Also, they have a fire-starting machine. They have complete control over where these kids go and even take part in directing them there, flinging down tree branches and shooting fireballs and (as irritating as it was to watch) creating dogs to chase and attack the tributes. Overall, I think they had much more control of the environments and that was more fun to watch than just cutting to Battle Royale’s commanders looking at a map of the island with little green dots on it.
Winner: The Hunger Games
One of my favorite parts of Battle Royale is the psychology behind it. These kids are drugged, put on an island and told that they have to kill their classmates- kids that they’ve grown up with, probably been in a class with since grade school. Their best friend is probably on that island with them, or their boyfriend/girlfriend, maybe even a cousin. On the other hand, that one kid who always bullied them could be there, or the person who spread a bunch of lies about them. What the students did determined what kind of person they were- some tried to band together to figure out a solution, some tried to find their friends, some killed themselves so they wouldn’t have to kill anyone else. And then there those who think like Mitsuko: “You just have to fight for yourself; no one’s going to save you. That’s just life, right?” “What’s wrong with killing? Everyone’s got their reasons.”
It’s easy for Katniss to distance herself from the competition and not make friends- she hadn’t even really met the other kid from her own district, let alone all the other tributes she would have had no way of meeting. Killing a tribute she didn’t know would be very different than killing someone she’d known all her life. She does manage to get through the games with very little killing at all, and of course killing a person is never easy. It’s just a very different mentality that Katniss has to adapt to. Winner: Battle Royale
If there is a movie I’m going to watch over and over again and still enjoy, it’s definitely going to be Battle Royale. I just really love the psychology behind it and the thought that goes into it, while the dystopian, Truman-Show-like nature of The Hunger Games generally just makes me roll my eyes. There are several more similarities between these two movies (including both of them having an overly cheery, extravagant girl host/introduction to the games), but I think these are the main reasons I like/dislike these films. For anyone who doesn’t have a stomach for gore, The Hunger Games may be more up your alley, but Battle Royale is a movie that fully exercises its right to explore a truly horrible idea, in all its aspects.
What are your thoughts, on either these elements or other similarities between the two movies? What about the differences between them?