I had no interest in seeing The Hunger Games. I’d heard the book was good, and I heard that the movie was slightly less good. But my father wanted to see it and invited me, so, not being against it, I went.
From what I had heard, seeing The Hunger Games was basically just seeing Battle Royale, the 2000 Japanese thriller. Some have even accused The Hunger Games of outright plagiarism. So, now that I was going to see The Hunger Games, I was curious to see just how similar they were and if one was better than the other.
Also note that I have not read either of the books on which these movies were based. I am only comparing the movies and the information that they convey. So, it’s very possible that I will be missing some details that were covered in the books.
The premises (or whatever the plural of premise is) of both movies are basically the same. Teenagers are brought to an arena of some kind and forced to kill each other. If we were to judge based solely on that, then yes, The Hunger Games would deserve to die. But it’s in the details that we will determine how much is coincidence, how much is genuine creativity, and how much is just a steaming pile of plagiarism.
First, let’s take a deeper look into the stories. Very little history is actually given in either movie. In both cases, there’s a brief explanation and the rest, we have to just figure out for ourselves. In The Hunger Games, there was some kind of empire or centralized government. And this empire was divided into twelve districts. There was a rebellion of some sort, and once the government had beaten it down, they began to take two children from each district each year and make them kill each other in what would be known as The Hunger Games. This was meant to instill a kind of fear into the populace and eventually simply became an annual televised sporting event.
I’m going to say now that the subtitles on my version of Battle Royale are not very good, so it’s possible that some of the story is lost on me. But, from what I could gather, there was some kind of economic crisis and as the government lost control, the children began boycotting school and becoming violent towards adults. As a result, the government passes the BR Act, which states that every year, a random class of high school kids is to be brought to a deserted island and forced to kill each other.
Based on those synopses, it doesn’t sound too good for The Hunger Games. They’re incredibly similar, but I will say that The Hunger Games‘s plot actually makes a little more sense to me. Any government would try to find some way of quelling any future rebellions. And though making children kill each other seems like an odd choice of punishment, it would keep people afraid. The big problem I have here is the fact that, should anything like that actually come to pass, people would stop having children for fear of having them participate in The Hunger Games. I’m pretty sure the population would have plummeted long before the 74th games. And that alone would have made the whole empire crumble. There may be more history that I’m missing here, but the movie certainly doesn’t go into it.
The problems with Battle Royale though, are a bit more glaring to me. The only backstory we get is the fact that there’s a high unemployment rate and children are boycotting school. Then a teacher gets stabbed in the butt. The movie never shows any riots or even any further violence towards adults. Based only on what we see, there is absolutely no cause for such an extreme measure as the BR Act. You kind of have to infer that it is much worse than we actually see. Otherwise, something like the BR Act would never evereverevereverever come to be.
A couple other things confuse me about Battle Royale as well. We clearly see at the beginning that people know of this act. The winner of one Battle Royale is being reported on the news. But when the class is selected, we see that none of them have any idea what it is. My first thought is that, maybe the one we see is the very first one. But that’s obviously not true, as there is a transfer student who is later revealed to have participated in one such game in the past. No matter how many times I see it, this will always confuse me.
But I think that’s where The Hunger Games’s advantages end. Though the history in Battle Royale is a bit more shoddy, I think it also executes other aspects much better.
One, The Hunger Games really downplays the violence. I’m not asking for anything gratuitous. I don’t want intestines flying through the air or drawn-out torture scenes or anything like that. But the most violent scene in the whole movie is just when The Hunger Games begin and half of the contestants die. But even then, there are only a few spurts of blood. I understand why it had to be downplayed a little. The books, for some strange reason, mainly appealed to teenage girls. So, when the movie was made, that was the target audience. And I’m guessing most teenage girls don’t want to see the kind of violence that I’m talking about here. But even so, this is a movie about children killing each other with swords and bows for the entertainment of others. That’s going to be violent, no matter how you look at it. But you never see anyone’s face as they’re dying. You don’t see 99% of the wounds caused by these weapons. They are only implied. And that actually makes the movie considerably less engrossing.
Example: At the start of the games, we see a character, which we are supposed to hate, cut the throat of a younger, much more adorable child with a sword. But as the kid is dying, the camera is behind him and there’s a small spurt of blood. But, had we seen the kid’s face when his throat was cut, the fear as his life was coming to an end, that would have been hundreds of times more effective. We would have felt much more sympathy for the young life that was so tragically cut short (see what I did there?) and much more contempt for the antagonist that did it. It’s like the moviemakers were trying to make this movie, which again, is about children killing each other, politically correct, which simply won’t work, no matter how many Woody Harrelsons are in your movie. But as it is, I simply didn’t care one way or the other. More on that later.
Battle Royale on the other hand, did not shy away from the violence. In fact, I’d even put their violence on B-movie levels. Someone’s throat gets cut in that, too. But there’s not just a spurt of blood. There’s a geyser! Sure, it’s a bit comical and biologically inaccuate, but at least Battle Royale realizes that violence is violent.
Now that we’ve talked about the actual killing, let’s talk about the events leading up to the killing.
Again, I think Battle Royale beats out The Hunger Games here. In The Hunger Games, everyone knows when these events are and they are able to mentally prepare themselves for it. And when the contestants are selected, they are brought to a freaking palace where they are pampered and also given special training in the weeks leading up to the game. There are also mentors that give them survival advice and tell them exactly how they can play effectively. They were given the time and training to cope with these things. It makes a certain amount of sense, considering these are televised sporting events. It wouldn’t be entertaining for anyone if they just dumped a bunch of dumb kids into the woods. They’d be confused and stupid and they’d probably all die within the first twenty minutes. The way The Hunger Games did it, I was entertained by the movie as a whole. But this is where Battle Royale wins me over.
In Battle Royale, these children are drugged and abducted. They are shown a short video, given a random weapon, and turned loose. They are given absolutely no time to come to terms with the fact that they now have to kill their friends and classmates or else be killed themselves. Not to mention the fact that these people know each other. In The Hunger Games, all it is is twenty-four strangers. In Battle Royale, it’s forty-two classmates. It makes the deaths and betrayals that much more emotional. This fact alone gets me more invested in the events of the film. Instead of being a form of entertainment, it’s just a cruel, sadistic exercise pitting friends against each other. They don’t care who lives and who dies. They don’t even care if there’s a winner at all. If there isn’t a winner after three days, they all die anyway. All just to prove some point that, sadly, is kind of lost in the poor translation and skimming of the backstory.
Now let’s talk about the characters. This was a little more difficult for me to decide, but again, I think I’m going to give the point to Battle Royale. Though I think the main character of The Hunger Games, Catniss, is a better, more well-rounded character than the main character of Battle Royale, Nanahara, when it comes to supporting characters, The Hunger Games kind of falls apart. We spent no time with anybody besides Catniss, and as a result, I really didn’t care for anyone else. When someone died, and it was supposed to be dramatic and heartwrenching, I really didn’t care. Everyone else just seemed flat and undeveloped. Heck, most of the characters weren’t even named and literally half of them die within the first two minutes of the games starting.
On the other hand, with Battle Royale, many of the supporting characters were considerably more interesting than Nanahara, even though most of the other characters’ stories didn’t expand beyond who had a crush on whom. But the characters of Kawada, the transfer student, and Kitano, the teacher and main antagonist, were much more developed, interesting, and sympathetic than any of the supporting characters in The Hunger Games. And hey, at least all of the students have names.
Those were all of the major points, and all that’s left are the fiddly bits.
Battle Royale kept track of each of the students and their deaths. Every time someone dies, they tell you their name and also how many students are still alive. The Hunger Games did no such thing, at least after the initial twelve deaths. At no point did I have any idea how many people were left alive. Near the end, I was surprised to see that only four people were left. Even if Battle Royale didn’t specifically tell you how many were left, you at least get to see how everyone died.
Like I briefly mentioned, the game in Battle Royale is considerably more sadistic and cruel. Though the people in The Hunger Games are pretty much just left alone, which is cruel in itself, the antagonist in Battle Royale blares classical music over loudspeakers as he cheerily announces which of the classmates had died and then suggests they take a lunch break. In addition the having them murder each other, he’s commiting psychological torture on these poor kids. It’s much more effective in getting us to despise the antagonist.
I also like how they keep the kids fighting in Battle Royale better. Each kid is fitted with a necklace that will explode if they stay in one of the “danger zones” that appear throughout the contest for too long. This keeps them moving closer together as their numbers dwindle. In The Hunger Games, when Catniss got too far away from the rest of the contestants, the people running the show shot fireballs at her and started a forest fire. This is more of a personal thing, but I found that kind of silly.
To The Hunger Games’s benefit, the acting and actual screenwriting are quite a bit better than Battle Royale’s. With the exception of Kitano, whose actor is just awesome, almost everyone’s performance in Battle Royale was either over the top or bland. Not to mention, some of the dialogue is simply ludicrous (“You’re the coolest girl in the world…”), which makes the movie funny in a way that it’s not supposed to be. Admittedly, that could just be poor subtitling. In The Hunger Games, most of the writing and performances were at least believable, if a little boring. And I always approve of having Donald Sutherland in your movie.
Also, since The Hunger Games had twelve more years of movie evolution behind it than Battle Royale did, the effects were, of course, better. Though at a couple points, The Hunger Games did fall victim to a plague that has infested almost all modern action movies: the shaky cam. I hate shaky cam! It’s supposed to make the movie feel more real, I guess. But I’d give up a little realism if it meant I could see what the hell was going on! It didn’t use shaky cam too often, but when it did, it really stood out. Battle Royale used no shaky cam whatsoever, and I thank them for that.
So, now that this long-winded tirade has come to an end, I’ve come to the conclusion that, though they are both good movies, Battle Royale is the better. I can also say that I honestly don’t believe that Suzanne Collins meant to plagiarize anything. Though a couple similarities are pretty eerie, I’m fairly certain she had never even heard of Battle Royale before writing her novel and The Hunger Games is a product of genuine creativity.