In order to exercise control over its subjects, a government rounds up groups of children yearly and forces them to fight each other to the death.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably read the popular The Hunger Games trilogy or saw the first film’s release this weekend.
But what I just described is also the plot of a Japanese book and movie called Battle Royale – both which pre-date The Hunger Games franchise. Having seen Battle Royale several years ago, I did have a sense of déjà vu when first reading The Hunger Games.
I’m not the only person who noticed the similarity. Suzanne Collins has come under fire for stealing the idea, a claim that she vehemently denies. She claims that she had never heard of Battle Royale until people started pointing out the resemblances. While they are not the exact same thing, there is a fair share of overlap between the two projects. This post does a good job of running through the similarities.
This dispute has played out mostly on the internet as the audiences for American Young Adult literature and for Asian cinema don’t really have a lot in common so most people aren’t even aware of Battle Royale’s existence. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of those people who have read The Hunger Games and those who have seen Battle Royale, I imagine there would be very little overlap.
I just happen to fall into that category because I’ve seen a lot of Asian cinema for some reason (A guy. It’s always about a guy.). So when a friend recommended Battle Royale, I immediately checked it out and really enjoyed it. The film features the brutality that I thought was missing from the recent Hunger Games movie.
I have no idea if Collins is telling the truth about having no knowledge of Battle Royale when she wrote The Hunger Games. It is possible, though you would think that someone, somewhere along the way, would have noticed the similarities. And while there are enough points in common that I immediately thought of Battle Royale when reading the books, I do think that The Hunger Games is different enough that it brings something new and interesting to the table. Just because someone else did something before doesn’t mean that it can never be done again. Based on the sheer abundance of remakes and sequels that exist today, this seems to be the premise that Hollywood currently operates under. It’s hard to argue that any idea is purely original. South Park addressed this issue in the season six episode “Simpsons Already Did It.”
If anything, the similarities between The Hunger Games and Battle Royale may mean that the popularity of the former gets some attention for the latter. Anchor Bay Entertainment seems to be banking on this possibility as they are finally giving Battle Royale an U.S. edition of the DVD that was released to coincide with the opening of The Hunger Games movie. Hopefully this will help propel Battle Royale beyond its cult movie status and help it reach a larger audience. I’m willing to give up a little of my indie street cred for more people enjoying the movie (though remember who told you to see it).
So if you enjoyed The Hunger Games and want to fill the time before Catching Fire is inevitably released, I’d recommend checking out Battle Royale. It does run a little darker and bloodier, but is definitely worth watching. Then you can decide for yourself if the two movies are too similar.
*I had planned on doing a post on the return of Mad Men (FINALLY!) today, but since Verizon FIOS decided to have a cable outage last night, I didn’t get to see it. I’ve waited 15 months for a new episode, so I suppose I can wait another day. But I’m not happy about it.