Since the premise of the first book in the Hunger Games series was first read, comparisons to the popular Japanese manga and film, Battle Royale have been made. Essentially, both premises can be summed up the exact same way: The government is upset at their people, so they force randomly selected children to compete to the death in a widely publicized spectacle. The details concerning the two separate works begin to show the differences in approach, but essentially that premise is what gets people interested in either franchise. Literally, I had no intention of reading The Hunger Games until someone said “It’s just like Battle Royale”, then my interest was piqued. In the human thirst for competition, something dark lurks. No one really wants to see children compete to the death, but it gets them curious as to how and why someone would describe it. A couple thousand years ago, this was basically a widely accepted practice, righ? But I’m not going to get into the mess of a discussion surrounding the morality of such literature, instead I’m going to explain the differences that these two films (we’re going off of the films, not the manga or novel) have.
The Hunger Games is certainly a more popular franchise, at least in North America. The story paints a bleak dystopian feel where most of the land’s inhabitants live in poverty, the remnants of a failed rebellion are now forcefully suppressed by the evil President Snow. To remind the nation of their rebellion, every year one child from each of the 12 districts is chosen to compete in “The Hunger Games” a televised event in which, after much pomp and circumstance, the kids go at it until there is only one left. While the premise of the movie “kids fighting to the death” may be what got the attention of many, we don’t actually get to the fighting until the latter part of the film. Instead we’re given an inside look at the residents of District 12, where Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist, is from. We see the suffering of the poor, we see the injustice and the social commentary runs wild before we get to the “juicy stuff”. It’s a smart move. I’ve expressed this in regards to horror movies, but it stands here; we need to know our characters before we kill them in order to have an attachment. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a great performance as Katniss, allowing us to get to care about her before her potential death. Once inside the arena, we become extremely conflicted knowing that the majority of the characters are going to die. Some we’re ok with, others leaves the audience with a gut-wrenching realization that this isn’t going to have a happy ending, regardless of if Katniss wins.
Then we have Battle Royale. Requiem Mass Dies Irae will forever be engraved in my mind as the opening music for this film. The intensity immediately sets the tone for the film, which is essentially “You’re going to get what we promised you.” The kids wear necklaces that explode if they’re in the wrong zone, for crying out loud! The movie wastes no time in delivering one of the most chilling openings I’ve seen to date. Not in that it’s scary, but the morbid contrast of showing the winner of the previous battle being surrounded by the press. As the crowd parts we see the winner as she’s being whisked away to get cleaned up. It’s a young, maybe eight year old girl. She’s sitting down with her head down looking at the teddy bear in her arms. She’s drenched in blood, probably not her own. As the cameras get closer, she lifts her head revealing a huge grin. Battle Royale wastes no time getting to the point. A randomly selected school class is selected for Battle Royale each year with no prior notice. Our class in this film is on their way home from a field trip on a big bus, when they’re all knocked out with sleeping gas only to awake at orientation. They’re told they have three days to kill each other off or they all die. Supplies are handed out and they’re sent on their way. This movie crams an odd mixture of high school drama, horror and comedy together. It doesn’t carry as weighty as a social message behind it, opting to show how each of the children involved handles their situation. The fact that these kids all go to school together means you get to see some real clique rivalry go down.
It’s odd that two pieces of film with almost the exact same premise can be so vastly different in their presentation. You’re going to get a movie tamed down in the violence department, but amped up in the drama department with The Hunger Games. Whereas Battle Royale is going to throw about 500 dramatic situations stemming from school crushes, bad home life and academic aspirations. It’s comical at times and pretty sad at other times. The two are exclusive from each other, I’m not going to say one is better than the other, but I will say they’re both quite entertaining; albeit for entirely different reasons.