When The Hunger Games became a huge cultural phenomenon, the book’s similarities to Japanese novel and film Battle Royale became a matter of debate, which has been kind of annoying. Lots of pop culture has stuff in common; can’t they both be great in their own right? I don’t remember the world getting up in arms when Antz and A Bug’s Life came out at the same time. Thanks to a tip-off on Twitter, I learned Battle Royale is now available on Netflix Instant, so it was time for me to finally be able to have an accurate comparison and opinion.
In Battle Royale, a class of ninth graders is brought to a remote island, strapped with exploding collars, and are given a mission: kill each other until only one survivor remains. And yes, this is similar to The Hunger Games, but from there the paths diverge. As soon as the movie begins, there’s a sense of cruelness and fear. These children have no idea that the class trip is in fact a ticket to death. At least in Hunger Games they’re given a head’s up. Suddenly these children are thrust into a moral quandary of life, death, and trust.
It’s a riveting two hours, and definitely a violent one.
Battle Royale is far bloodier and more violent than The Hunger Games, but it’s also a matter of the audience the material was created for. Hunger Games in a young adult trilogy meant for teens; Battle Royale is not for kids by any means. Even in Japan it received a rating that children under 15 couldn’t see the movie. While I loved The Hunger Games movie and felt the violence was portrayed in a way that gives a sense of the hectic, cruel nature of the game, the imagery of Battle Royale is far more haunting (well except for the one sad ginger boy no more than twelve bleeding out onto a crate in Hunger Games). But it’s also because BR gives a back story to many students, not just the protagonist, giving viewers a sense of grief each time a death occurs.
Only one part of Battle Royale seemed to irk me: the Battle Royale Act itself.
The BR Act, formally known as The Millenium Educational Reform Act, was created during a time of disarray. 800,000 students boycotted school, and in fear of the youth, the Battle Royale was created. My gripe was that none of the students seemed aware of this act, completely caught off-guard that their ninth grade class was chosen to fight to the death. So what’s the point? If their world seems to have no idea this act exists, then why do it? The students are pleading to know why? Why them? And I agree. This is where I give The Hunger Games the point, because in their world, this Olympic-like event is feared and required viewing, creating a sense of fear and submission. In Battle Royale it just seems to happen, in the quiet, and the world goes on.
An underground cult film for years, Battle Royale is definitely a must-see. Get your reading glasses on, because it is all in subtitles, but it doesn’t take away from anything. The movie is haunting, sometimes funny, and has some insane use of weaponry in its kills. After I finished watching, I was sort of quiet, processing everything I just saw. It’s a movie that sticks with you because while being massively entertaining, I also just watched 42 teenagers shooting, axing, and tasering each other. Battle Royale, and it’s sequel Battle Royale 2: Requiem (haven’t watched the sequel yet), can both be watched on Netflix Instant now. You can also count me in as a yes next time this is the midnight movie at Coolidge Corner.