Posted by Jill Boniske aka Arty Chick on September 18, 2012
I am sure that most of you have heard of or read or watched The Hunger Games by now, but when it came out on the screen, I read a lot of posts that questioned its originality and referred to the Japanese movie Battle Royale, which came out in 2000, as the first of the kids battling kids to the death flicks. So I put it in my Netflix queue and pretty much forgot about it, but then it appeared in my mailbox and I had to watch and see if the comparisons were in fact fair. And yes, there certainly are a lot of similarities. Like The Hunger Games, Battle Royale takes place in a not too distant totalitarian future where there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem with having a bunch of kids slaughter one another. Both are based on popular books, and both were huge hits in their home countries (though Battle Royale was never released in theaters in the US.)
The film opens with a bunch of Japanese school children, 9th graders I think, on a field trip bus heading to an unnamed destination. They flirt and joke and are fairly normal looking kids, though through a few flashbacks we see some of them are “troubled.” A knifing here, a parent’s suicide there, the usual high school angst. But suddenly the whole bus is asleep and they all awaken on an island to find a sadistic Teacher (from one of the flashbacks) telling them that they will now be killing one another in this year’s Battle Royale. They are all now wearing necklaces that can be exploded at the Teacher’s will, with a push of a button, which he demonstrates on one of their favorite classmates. And after watching a very Japanese game show video (see below) explaining the rules, they are each given a backpack of supplies and thrown out to fend for themselves. If within 3 days they have not all killed each other, leaving just one survivor, Teacher will explode all the necklaces.
What is more interesting to me about this than Hunger Games though is the Lord of the Flies feel of it. They all know each other, and the cliques and crushes from high school are all on display. The nerds are working together at hacking the computer system to save themselves. The bitchiest girl in school is going after everyone with a vengeance, and the level of trust between old friends is tested at every turn. And all the kids remain in their school uniforms throughout the carnage, of which there is a lot! Another twist of this “game” is that the weapons in each backpack have been randomly given, so one kid gets a stun gun, another a pair of binoculars, and another a machine gun. And there are two other young men thrown into the mix who are not part of the class, one good and one very evil. Like The Hunger Games the film ultimately revolves around a young couple who you want to make it through without having to kill each other. And like The Hunger Games, there is sequel (Battle Royale II: Requiem), though the film is not open ended. Battle Royale is a self-contained little horror show. It is certainly not a film for everyone and not necessarily for people who loved The Hunger Games. It is a LOT more violent — think Tarantino. But if you just happen to love dystopian future, child gladiator love stories in Japanese, then this is the film for you.
(Note to Netflix: Not sure if it was just my version, but a lot of the subtitles made no sense.)