I have to ashamedly admit that when I first heard the plot of The Hunger Games, I turned my snooty little nose up and dismissed it as Battle Royale for kids. Yes, there are similarities in the plots of both movies, but I’m not making this a comparative review – both are awesome, both are worthy of your attention, but they’re very different movies.
Battle Royale is a Japanese movie from 2000 that’s based on a door-stopper novel that I’m about a third of the way through at the moment, and I love this movie. It’s easily my favourite Japanese movie but it’s also something incredible outside of that small scope. There’s a reason I got snooty when I thought The Hunger Games was ripping it off.
The plot is this: in the not-too-distant future, the youth of Japan are out of control, and so to regain some of it, the government passes a law that allows one class of students to be abducted and imprisoned on an island, left to kill each other until one student remains. The Hunger Games aside, this plot has been used many times before with many variations, but Battle Royale does it best.
What I love about Battle Royale more than anything is just how out-of-control it is (deliberately so) and how it’s just seething with this frenetic energy that makes it completely captivating. The scene where the students wake up to find themselves trapped and realising the reality of their predicament is so full of palpable panic and frenzy that it makes you feel breathless watching it. It’s one of my favourite scenes of all time just for the mayhem.
The rest of the movie deals with the competition itself, as told through the eyes of our protagonists Shuya and Noriko as they try to find a way out of the battle without having to kill anyone. The rest of their class is fully embroiled in the fight, with friends turning on each other left right and centre, and the petty foibles of high-school being extrapolated into a combat situation; that girl who’s a real bitch to you is mean enough, but when she’s weaponised? Well that’s a whole other animal. Contrary to its marketing, it’s not so much “would you kill your best friend?” as it is “what would you do to stay alive?”
I’m not saying too much about the movie, because some of the best moments in it take you completely by surprise (the lighthouse, for instance) and you should really, definitely, absolutely track down a copy of it for yourself sometime.
It’s a chaotic, frenzied, high-octane sort of movie that really packs an absolute whollop. If you haven’t ever seen it, you’re selling yourself short on one of the best action/thriller/drama/horror movies out there and you need to rectify this lapse in your cinematic repertoire now.
You can rent it on iTunes or YouTube, so get on to it. The book is also worth a look!