I know I’m a little bit behind the times in this, but I finally got the chance to sit down and watch The Hunger Games. And in doing so came the inevitable comparisons to one of my favorite movies and (arguably) the precursor to Hunger Games, a movie called Battle Royale. It has been said that Suzanne Collins did not know that Battle Royale existed before she wrote her series of novels, and after seeing both of them within a few days of each other, I would tend to believe her.
Battle Royale (made in 2000) presents a different backdrop to the story. A single class is chosen at random to participate in a free-for-all bloodbath, ending only when there is one survivor left. The reasons for this are vague and the viewer only knows that the program was begun as a government effort to combat juvenile delinquency. A rather harsh measure to be sure, but the plausibility of the movie is not one of its strong points. Of course, it’s not meant to be.
Battle Royale is essentially a statement about the state of society (with a particular relation to Japanese society) and how each person is expected to be willing to sacrifice everyone they care about in an effort to get ahead. The evil villain (played by the brilliant Takeshi Kitano) happens to be the schoolteacher of the students who are chosen for the death-match. There is a message here about the state of schools and how teachers are not necessarily there to teach children, but to make sure they know how to destroy each other in the long run.
The Hunger Games follows a similar vein, but instead addresses the conflicts between rich and poor. Those who live in the capital are affluent, despite the starvation and misery of those in other districts. The lower classes are treated like fodder, being plucked away from their lives so that they may die entertaining the rich. The whole thing is televised, as opposed to Battle Royale where it’s almost anonymous.
Which one is better? I’d say they both have important messages, though Hunger Games definitely revolves around a more popular concept. Added to that are higher production values that make it easily the more watchable movie for the general public. The older Battle Royale, however, has a quirkiness and unique approach that brings to life the cliché action of Japanese cinema, making it entertaining for those with alternative tastes.
Both are pretty good, but I doubt I’d watch Hunger Games more than once. It says what it has to but leaves little more to think about during a second watch. Battle Royale, on the other hand, offers something new with each viewing. In the end, their both pretty decent films.