Release Date: 2000
Why We’re Talking About It: Battle Royale is a Japanese film based on the book of the same name published in 1999, nine years before the first Hunger Games novel by Suzanne Collins. There are many who believe Collins ripped off her concept from Battle Royale, and after watching the film, the two are eerily similar. Having said that though, the idea of putting people in a game of death as part of a government mandate isn’t exactly breaking new ground. Collins clearly has a different spin on it, so I’m not by any means here to rain on the Hunger Games parade. I thought this would be a good opportunity though to give Battle Royale some recognition, because it is a pretty damn good film, albeit exceptionally violent. Quite honestly, I think both properties should bow down to The Running Man (1987), which also pulls the same concept, but had Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, a bad guy named Dynamo, and a transport tube that looked like a water slide on steroids, so there. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Masanobu Ando
They Were Also In: Takeshi Kitano who plays the school teacher of the class chosen for Battle Royale was also in the terrible Keanu Reeves mid-nineties “classic” Johnny Mnemonic. Just thought I’d bring that up. Also, Chiaki Kuriyama would later go on to star as Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill.
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
The Hunger Games Similarities: We start off with a “kids revolted against adults” prologue that kicks starts why Battle Royale was established in the first place. While in the game, there are a bunch of loud speaker announcements and death toll updates, so that’s always fun. They also focus on two main characters (boy and girl) who may or may not be “lovebirds.”
The Differences: Despite the overall format, there’s quite a few differences between the two properties. First of all, Battle Royale has a crap load more participants, but the biggest difference is these kids think they are being taken on a fun field trip only to be gassed and tossed right into a briefing room. They get one quick video, and we’re off to the races. That sucks. At least in the Hunger Games they got to train. Oh, and in Battle Royale, if more than one person stays alive after three days, everyone gets blown up by the collars around their neck. That’s kind of a big difference.
The Best Performance: There’s a lot of good performances in this film, but I have to give it to the guy who’s not even in the Battle Royale, and that would be Kitano playing the teacher named…Kitano. Aside from being both ruthless and funny in the scene where he lays everything out, Kitano becomes an oddly semi-sympathetic character by the end. He’s a disturbed villain, but also a fascinating one, and Kitano does a good job of portraying the wide variety of emotions that the character demands, especially in his final scene which is quite powerful.
The Supporting Scene Stealer: Masanobu Ando plays the speechless Kiriyama, a “transfer student” who’s brought into participate. This guy is basically the Boba Fett of the movie – a quiet assassin-like killer who’s cold and calculated, but also bad ass. There’s an incredible shot of him walking away from a burning building as he moves into attack that is just gorgeous to look at. Every time you think a character gets the advantage over him, he simply smiles and unloads. A great and subtle performance by Ando.
The Moment to Remember:There’s a lot to choose from, but when Kiriyama kicks a decapitated head with a grenade lodged in its mouth into the fray, that’s pretty difficult to top.
The Memorable Quote:“At the end, I’m glad I found a true friend.” -Kawada
The Groan Moment:Even though this is a moment I kind of like, it gives off a sort of goofy tone before the Battle Royale event even starts. So one of the kids acts up during the briefing, and Kitano isn’t having it, so he demonstrates the neck collar and the kid’s neck explodes. Yeah. Certainly I understand why they do it, which is to establish there is no escape, but the way it comes off is a little goofy, whereas the violence later in the film is actually effective and not too cartoonish. This wasn’t a good place to start in terms of the first big “wow” moment, but the movie picks itself back up pretty quickly after that.
Which is Better? While The Hunger Games does a much better job of giving us a more fleshed out protagonist in Katniss Everdeen, that’s about the only element I like better. Don’t get me wrong, The Hunger Games has been a solid film series so far, but all the issues I have with the Hunger Games are vastly better in Battle Royale. First of all, the violence is taken more seriously. I’m not saying this to sound like a violence thirsty bloodhound as I can’t stand it when films over use violence as a crutch, but when you have a story about teenagers being forced to kill each other, the violence needs to be effective. So in the first Hunger Games when they completely go absurd crazy shaky cam so you can’t tell what’s going on to keep their PG-13 rating, it pisses me off and invalidates everything they built up in the previous forty-five minutes. This is much improved in the second film, but that’s because the characters are mostly adults, so they can get away with it. Battle Royale holds nothing back – it’s a harsh, gritty, and tense ridden story that is elevated because of how no holds barred it is, although I would not recommend this movie to the faint of heart. It’s pretty gory. Maybe both wanted to tell their stories differently, but I can only go by which movie executed it better, and for me that was Battle Royale.
More importantly though, Battle Royale is not only paced 900 times faster, but it does a much better job of letting the audience in as to who all these characters are in a much shorter period of time. In the first Hunger Games, we know Katniss, Peeta, and Rue, but that’s about it. Everyone else is a bunch of stock throwaway characters, including the antagonists. In Battle Royale, the majority of participants have emotionally riveting character traits and motives, which just makes for a better story. I felt more invested.
If you’re a giant Hunger Games fan though, I’d recommend giving this a shot just to compare and contrast. As far as movies about government sanctioned death games with a lot of arrows go, both do it pretty well.
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.