I'd read recently that the hugely popular movie "The Hunger Games" was very similar to "Battle Royale" a 2000 movie based on a book by Koushun Takami. Some accused author Suzanne Collins of excessively borrowing from the latter. Since I liked The Hunger Games, it seemed only fair that I take some time and see Battle Royale via Netflix.
It took a while but I finally got my copy of Battle Royale - interest in the movie suddenly peaked on Netflix. I wonder why? :) The executive summary is that on the whole, I liked it. It has many of the qualities of Japanese movies such as excessively loud shrieking girls (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, you haven't watched enough Japanese movies!). It's also extremely bloody and graphic - far more so than The Hunger Games. The only downside, is that the DVD did not have an English dubbed soundtrack, and reading subtitles never quite offers the same feel for the movie. Makes me wish I knew Japanese - all those Kurosawa movies would be even more enjoyable! And yes, even the military gives me flashbacks to Godzilla movies !
But back to the meat of the issue - is The Hunger Games ripped off from Battle Royale?
After watching Battle Royale, I couldn't help but try and think about the similarities and differences. And the more I thought about it, the more confusing my thought process was. But ultimately, I came full circle and considered my first gut reaction - what was I thinking when I finished the movie? For most movies, when the credits start to roll, I start asking myself questions about the movie - why did the main character do this? did this sequence make sense? how come they didn't mention this person? I guess it's my nature as an engineer to always look for consistency and logic even in fantasy movies. And what was my first reaction this time? I wondered about the movie and how it could have been better - how not enough was said early on to set up the storyline; how they didn't completely explain the teacher's role, etc. What I did NOT ponder about was how similar it was to The Hunger Games. It wasn't until later that I started trying to make a comparison. And therein was my answer. If I have to try to make a comparison, then there's nothing to compare.
This is not to say that the two movies don't overlap. Clearly the notion of teenagers set out to kill each other to the last person standing is at the center of both movies. But that's it. One could just as easily compare two spy movies and say one is based heavily on the other because there are spies in common. To me, the differences far outweigh the similarities.
I did not read either book; and I don't intend to; so I'm making a comparison based solely on two screenplay adaptations of two novels. To the purist, this may sound unfair but as a movie product, it's very reasonable. I found The Hunger Games to be much clearer in both the storyline and the rationale. At its root, the setting is believable because the inhabitants clearly fear the Games, and that is the intent of having these them. Battle Royale was lacking here - if the BR Act was meant to punish bad students annually, why were students still behaving so poorly? Why was teacher Kitano asked how "they" were selected? They should all have known and feared the process and institution created by the BR Act. That said, the character development was better in Battle Royale. Even though there were more competitors, each had their time on camera and I felt I at least understood what happened to them. Not so with The Hunger Games where half of the crew could just as easily have worn Red Shirts. But that also says something about the focus of the story. The Hunger Games is much more about the society and more movie time is spent on underscoring the unjust nature of Panem where as Battle Royale is much more about specific individuals and their struggles in life.
In the end, I have to say that I liked both movies - and to me, that's the only similarity that matters.