There is no question that Battle Royale and The Hunger Games are certainly very similar. In fact, its almost certain that these two texts are too similar — with The Hunger Games being called a “rip-off” of Battle Royale on several different accounts. Yet, despite the intent of these similarities, the ultimate messages of these films are almost the exact opposite of one another.
Battle Royale, much like The Hunger Games, is a film which depicts a fight to the death. Under the newly implemented Battle Royale Act, a class of forty-two ninth-graders become the next class to fall victim to this act to scare the rebellious youth of the time into submission. Similarly, The Hunger Games depicts the story of Katniss Everdeen, a girl from the poorest district of a fictionalization of North America (also known as Panem), who volunteers as her district’s female tribute for the elusive Hunger Games, a reminder of the Capitol’s prevalence of a rebellion long past.
Right from the film’s opening, The Hunger Games feels like Capitol propaganda. “I think it’s a tradition,” we are told straight from the onset by Gamemaker Seneca Crane in an interview with the prolific Ceaser Flickerman, Panem’s star personality. “It’s the way we’re able to feel,” he tells Flickerman. “It’s something that knits us all together.” Crane’s remarks are met with nothing but applause from those in the Capitol, who feel as if The Hunger Games is something celebratory. Yet a quick cut to District 12, the poorest of the twelve Districts, shows the reality as a young girl screams in her sleep, fearing that she will be the next chosen for the Hunger Games that Crane had so delicately labeled as “tradition.”
On the other hand, Battle Royale’s opening sequence is blunt in its choices, highlighting the innocently brutal horror of what is about to occur for Class 3-B. Swarms of paparazzi and news crews descend on an armed vehicle, containing a child. “It’s a girl,” the reporters scream as they are held back against armed guards. “The winner is a girl!” The girl grins, revealing her braces and holding her doll close to her chest — all signifiers of her innocence — yet her innocence is nowhere to be seen as she grins with malice intent, all whilst covered in blood.
These opening scenes set up each world perfectly. The Hunger Games gives us a star-studded introduction to the world of Panem, a priority and a façade that hides the reality of what the Hunger Games is to those who enter it whereas Battle Royale shows itself for what it is; a fight to the death between children. Yet it is the audience reaction to these intricate worlds that truly solidifies the clear messages behind these two films.
Battle Royale’s presence in the cult world was made not only by the film’s brutal contents but its seeming inaccessibility. With bans in South Korea, attempted bans in Japan, and even rumoured bans in the United States, Battle Royale’s black-market popularity only grew, with people desperate to see just exactly why this film was causing such a fuss — so much so that is now one of the top ten best-selling Japanese films of all time.
Alternatively, The Hunger Games is masked behind criticisms of classism and reality television that we as an audience forget that The Hunger Games is really about the murder of innocent children. Instead, we are swept up in the romance between Peeta and Katniss (or Katniss and Gale, if that floats your boat) and the ingenious ramblings of Effie Trinket screaming “That is mahogany!” as we scroll through the internet for the umpteenth time to find out what District we belong to in Panem.
The Hunger Games sets out to prove the destructive actions of reality television and how damaging it is to an audience that is blinded by its intoxicating power, while Battle Royale gains credibility through its seductive bluntness, despite attempts to ban its existence. Ultimately, both films are products of their own making as the audience proves the point that they initially set out to make; The Hunger Games audiences ignoring the violence and Battle Royale audiences craving it. It is hard to see that despite the innumerable similarities between the two films, their overall different messages have been well and truly received by audiences worldwide.
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