'Battle Royale' vs. 'The Hunger Games': Why There Can Be Two Victors

By: Heather Seebach

The recent film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games has drawn a lot of ire from genre films fans to whom the plot sounded all too familiar. The story of a teenager drafted into a futuristic fight-to-the-death recalled Kinji Fukasaku's 2000 thriller, Battle Royale. In the latter, a Japanese law mandates that disobedient children are forced to face off on a remote island until only one survivor remains. In The Hunger Games, the government also enacts a similar law but it is intended to oppress the masses and provide the rich with entertainment.

It was inevitable that foreign film snobs and hipsters would get their panties in a bunch over this much-hyped, much-acclaimed film released 12 years after Royale. I must admit, it made my eye twitch to hear a person or publication (looking at you, Entertainment Weekly!) disrespectfully refer to Battle Royale as "the Japanese Hunger Games." Fans of the latter have countered that THG has its own merits, and that the basic deathmatch concept actually pre-dates them both. So who is right in this argument? Let us begin by breaking down the similarities and differences (SPOILER-FREE):


- The deathmatch is government-mandated
- Only 1 person can win
- The fight involves only kids and teenagers, not adults
- There is 1 volunteer
- There is at least 1 psychopath (specifically, 1 male and 1 female)
- There are loudspeaker announcements and the survivors are informed of the dead
- Bags of supplies are provided at the beginning of the tournament

The Differences:

- In BR, the kids wear explosive collars (nothing like this in THG)
- In THG, the fight is broadcast to the public
- In THG, the deathmatch is not always fair (rigged)
- In THG, the kids are given training and some pleasant last days

That is about as detailed as I can get without spoilers. So as you can see, there are more similarities than differences. There is no denying that the basic premises are alike but is it really a new concept? Hardly. Countless movies have had similar plot lines, from the well-known (The Running Man, The Most Dangerous Game) to the obscure (Turkey Shoot, Series 7). Even though this detail is what most people who have not seen the film bitch about, I actually found the BR similarities MORE apparent when I finally watched the film. Numerous scenes recalled moments from Battle Royale but I won't go into details here for the sake of spoilers.

Despite the comparisons, I do feel that both movies can co-exist. Here are some reasons why:

Different Levels of Drama

Battle Royale is not the vapid action film some people believe it to be. It actually has a lot of depth but it is far more character-focused than Hunger Games. It is very much about the chosen kids and their relationships to one another in the days before their inevitable deaths. It is a warped high school tale, where the teenagers go through the usual motions - loneliness and rejection, unrequited love, rebellion, etc. There is no build up to the passing of the BR Act, and no mention of what occurs after the film concludes. It is all about the battle and the experiences of these children. There is no sole hero ala Katniss but rather numerous students with back-stories.

On the other hand, The Hunger Games shows us terror and emotional turmoil involved with the drafting process. It also delves more deeply into the way the Games affect the public, as particularly evidenced in a riot scene. I hoped the film would show more of this uprising, but I assume the sequels will go there. On the contrary, in Battle Royale, we never even see how the kids' parents feel about the draft, let alone the public. For all this, I feel like THG is more focused on the larger picture, while BR is specifically about the children involved.

Each is Relevant In Its Own Way

While Battle Royale commented on the state of modern youth and government oppression fresh out of the 90s, The Hunger Games brings a relatively new element into it - reality television. Not exactly a new concept in modern sci-fi, I know, but THG makes its point well and gives us a glimpse at what our future may very well resemble. From dysfunctional families to medical horrors, everything is televised these days, and this sort of sick voyeurism is only getting more popular.

They Serve Different Audiences

Let's face it, Battle Royale does not attract mainstream audiences, let alone young people - but they do like Hunger Games.  While the latter is not without a love story, it is certainly not the Twilight-esque movie many people mistake it to be. For one thing, Katniss is a FAR better female role model than Bella. Furthermore, the film is made better and boasts a LOT more violence. For a PG-13 film, it does not shy away from the bloodshed, and I commend it for that. Because of this, the film really bridges the gap between the Twihards and real cinema. If teenagers want to go see a film like this, honestly, it is a step in the right direction. Perhaps it will even make them want to see BR. It is already responsible for the Japanese film finally getting an American release.

Funny enough, The Hunger Games has a lot in common with another current release, and yet I have not heard a single peep about it thus far. In Cabin in the Woods, young people are also being watched and manipulated as "tribute" and for entertainment. For those of you who saw Cabin, remember there was a Japanese ritual as well as the American? Think of Battle Royale as Japan's "tribute" while The Hunger Games is ours. If you know the ending of all 3 films, you will especially get a kick out of this....

So how do you feel about these two films? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

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