The popularity of “The Hunger Games” movie and book series has spurred a debate online. Fans of Japanese cinema are calling foul on series author Suzanne Collins, saying the central premise of “The Hunger Games” is ripped from popular title “Battle Royale.”
“Battle Royale” is a 2000 Japanese film in which a class of high school students is thrust without warning into a three-day, all-out brawl to the death. They are put on an island, given a bag with a random tool or weapon and forced to wear a collar that explodes if they try to disable it or wander into a restricted area. The last one standing is the winner and gets to live. The film is set in a politically unstable and economically ruined Japan. After 800,000 students boycotted school, adults began to fear the uneducated youths. In an attempt to scare the students into respecting the education system, the annual Battle Royale was established.
The controversy that surrounds “The Hunger Games” comes from the Games’ premise: A group of children are given weapons and forced to kill each other. While other sci-fi novels before it have delved into the topic of forcing children into deadly situations, the obvious similarities between both films stand out to fans of “Battle Royale” in particular because the novel on which it is based was published nearly nine years before “The Hunger Games.” Collins denied claims of plagiarism in an article in The New York Times Magazine, stating she hadn’t heard of either the movie or the novel on which it is based until after “The Hunger Games” was turned in to her editor.
There is no way to tell if Collins is telling the truth or not. However, by examining both films obvious contrasts between them arise, including their formatting and the material they present.
The biggest difference between the two films is how political tensions between governments and their people are shown. “The Hunger Games'” plot focuses on relations between The Capitol and the outlying Districts. The everyday struggles of Katniss and her fellow District 12 members under the rule of The Capitol are clear in several parts of “The Hunger Games.” The stark contrast between conditions in the vibrant Capitol and run-down District 12 speaks visually of a post-war country with clear winners and losers. The point of the Hunger Games is to further oppress the 12 Districts after their rebellion decades earlier and to continue to reinforce the power of the Capitol.
The political reasons behind the passing of the Battle Royale Act are specific to Japan’s history of student protests. Riots against the Vietnam War in the 1960s at many Japanese universities are still a sensitive topic in Japan, hence the healthy amount of controversy surrounding “Battle Royale” in its own country. This historical reasoning is implied in the film, leaving American audiences that have no prior research in the dark as to how such drastic measures are even feasible. This allows “Battle Royale” to concentrate on the killings that pervade the film.
Death scenes in “Battle Royale” are sometimes comically over-the-top. This grotesque style is not uncommon in other Japanese slasher titles, but it is a key difference between “Battle Royale” and “The Hunger Games.” “The Hunger Games” keeps scenes of gore to a minimum and focuses emotions on the political climate surrounding the Games. The Japanese movie utilizes gore to juxtapose the innocence of children with the horrors of murder – “Battle Royale” is packed with social commentary surrounding Japan’s struggles with students, but the scale is much less obvious than the political focus in “The Hunger Games.”
“The Hunger Games” stays on the topic of contrasting social class, a parallel to today’s political debates. While each Battle Royale is shrouded in secrecy, the Hunger Games are broadcast to all of Panem to promote the dominance of the Capitol. “Battle Royale” does have similar undertones, but the influence the Hunger Games has over the Districts and the Capitol seems far beyond that of each Battle Royale.
Romance plays a big role in “The Hunger Games” as a tool for rebellion. The “love” shared between Katniss and Peeta is manipulated to play with the Capitol as well as keep them alive in the Games. In “Battle Royale,” the realities of high school crushes are taken to a whole new level as lovers commit suicide and female students fight for the affection of male students.
The theme of “Battle Royale” is not so much one of rebellion – despite its ending – but of survival and psychological torment. On the other hand, “The Hunger Games” keeps rebellion as its primary theme, although long breaks during the Games do sometimes break up the tension.
Despite the obvious similarities between “The Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale,” both have individual focuses that give audiences completely different viewing experiences. “The Hunger Games” focuses on large-scale ideas within Panem, while “Battle Royale” chooses to exemplify small-scale struggles within an overarching conflict between students and authority. Besides a similar underlying premise, both films are different enough to enjoy for different reasons.
Those who are looking for top-notch special effects and more focus on politics should check out “The Hunger Games.” If you want to do a little digging into Japan’s history and watch a provocative slaughter fest, “Battle Royale” has just been re-released on a variety of media formats.
Tim Hadick is a sophomore majoring in Japanese and journalism. You can email him at [email protected] or tweet him @RealCollege.