Double Feature Showdown – Battle Royale vs. The Hunger Games
Last year when The Hunger Games came out, all I heard was Battle Royale this, Battle Royale that. Everybody kept talking about how similar the plots were between the two, but nobody really gave specifics, other than “kids forced to kill each other off until only one remains.” Is The Hunger Games a ripoff of Battle Royale? Does it matter? More importantly, which movie is better? (This is a Double Feature Showdown, after all.) Let the games begin!
Battle Royale: In the near future, Japan has been overset with a failing economy, high unemployment, and an alarming epidemic of rebellious youth. Young people are dropping out of school and becoming more and more violent and disaffected. The government passes the BR (Battle Royale) act, and, once a year, a random class is selected, taken to a remote island, and ordered to fight to the death. If more than one person is left after three days, they all die. Each student is given an electric collar, which will explode at the controller’s desire. In order to keep things interesting, shifting sections of the island are declared danger zones and students must leave that section or have their heads blown up. The film centers on two students, Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda), who are secretly in love. They band together with transfer student Shôgo Kawada (Tarô Yamamoto) to try to find a way off the island without getting killed by their peers.
I enjoyed this movie, even though my rational brain kept telling me I should not enjoy watching teenagers violently kill each other as much as I did. There is one huge glaring plot hole, which is the reasoning behind the BR act. How is selecting random classes of high schoolers to slaughter each other an effective deterrent against anything? The film never makes it clear what the point of the BR act is exactly. Choosing randomly means there is no reward for good behavior, so there is no incentive for young people to stop knifing their teachers. Is it for revenge? Is it for enjoyment? I have no clue. The deaths are explicit, and some of the characters embrace killing more readily than others, which makes it an action-packed watch. The film is also notable for a great performance by Takashi “Beat” Kitano, playing the class’s former teacher who has come back to run their island nightmare.
The Hunger Games: In the country of Panem, twelve districts support the Capitol presided over by President Snow. As punishment for an earlier rebellion, each district must provide two young people—a boy and a girl—once a year to fight a televised battle to the death, and the lone winner will go on to be that year’s champion. The players are released into a controlled environment where they have the chance to acquire food and weapons, as well as brutally attack each other. The game builders can manipulate the surroundings, creating fires or monster-like animals to affect behavior, location, and sometimes even outcomes. But they cannot account for everything, certainly not the strength of will belonging to District 12 competitor Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). The first volunteer from her district, she agrees to compete in order to take the place of her sister Prim. Along with her male counterpoint, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss travels to the Capitol to compete in the 74th annual Hunger Games.
I really enjoyed this movie. I like a big blockbuster as much as the next gal, but a lot of the time I wish there was just more there. This movie has it all: action, political machinations, and a heroine we can root for. It’s not the best movie ever made—or even as good as the book—but it’s a lot of fun wrapped around some interesting ideas about power and our ability as observers to detach ourselves from what we are watching. It is also very clear about why Snow is having kids fight to death; it is a way to establish control over the twelve districts by keeping them in a constant state of anxiety. It also gives them something to focus on instead of another rebellion. The performances are great, including a turn by musician Lenny Kravitz, whom I usually don’t care for at all.
The Winner: Yeah, it’s The Hunger Games. I really liked both movies, but for completely different reasons. Battle Royale is great if you like to watch graphic depictions of teenage mayhem, which I do. But I just cannot get over that there is no real reason given for randomly selecting classes of 9th graders to off each other. And maybe that is the point: as things cycle out of control, there is no real point to the horrors people are forced to endure. But even if that is the message of the film—and I am by no means sure that it is—I prefer the epic scope of The Hunger Games. It’s glossier and occasionally maudlin, but it does have its own darkness to impart.