Content warning: Battle Royale has violent and graphic content that can be distressing
In 1999, ten years before The Hunger Games, a novel named Battle Royale was published in Japan. It was adapted to film in 2000 and quickly became one of the highest-grossing movies in Japanese history, despite (or perhaps due to) considerable controversy. The dystopian setting of Battle Royale is far closer to our world than the futuristic Districts of Panem, but the punishment for civil disobedience is the same. Due to increasing instances of teen delinquency, a class of schoolchildren are chosen at random and forced to fight to the death in a televised bloodbath.
Weapons are assigned at random- in this scene, Mitsuko “Hardcore” Souma loses her scythe to a girl with a gun
Class 3-B contains a lot of “bad kids”- Nobu in particular. He was expelled from school after stabbing a teacher, but allowed to return for an “end of year field trip”. A few miles down the road, the class notice their driver is wearing a gas mask…when they come round, flanked by armed guards, they are face-to-face with their put-upon teacher Kitano. He orders them to watch a video where a perky presenter outlines the rules of Battle Royale. She draws the class’ attention to the collars around their necks- these are explosive, and will detonate if they are tampered with, or if the student strays into a ‘danger zone’. Every hour, a different quadrant will be designated dangerous, so the students cannot hide for very long. They will each be given a ‘weapon’ at random- this could be a firearm, a sword, a taser or a teakettle. There can only be one survivor- if more than one student remains after 48 hours, all will die. Not satisfied that the students understand their situation, Kitano offers up Nobu as demonstration. He points a remote at the student’s collar, and after a series of beeps, Nobu’s head explodes.
Ex-teacher Kitano lays out his plan to keep his favourite student Noriko alive
Nobu’s best friend Nanahara vows revenge on Kitano and swears to protect Noriko, the only well-behaved girl in the group and unknowing object of Nobu’s affection. They team up against Girl #11, Mitsuko Souma, a psychopathic “yankee” (girl gang member) armed with a sickle, and Boy #6, Kiriyama, who has signed up for Battle Royale for his own amusement. Some of the students make suicide pacts; some stay in cliques; some try to take out the soldiers who guard the battlefield. Another non-student, Kawada, is a past winner of Battle Royale and has volunteered to avenge his fallen girlfriend. He knows the island where the game takes place, and recruits Nanahara and Noriko to help bring down the government. Unbeknownst to her, Noriko is under the protection of Kitano, who remembers her as the only student to regularly show up for class. The teacher has a fraught relationship with his daughter, and views Noriko as a substitute. Many of the students have similar relationships with their parents- Nanahara’s father committed suicide and Souma was raped by one of her mother’s boyfriends. Kitano uses his position to sway the outcome of the game, mirroring the adults who use their governing power to “manage” the student problem. The teenagers are victims of their parents’ behaviour, and misbehave to rage against their powerlessness. Have they really brought the Battle upon themselves?
Nanahara, Noriko and Kawada make it to the edge of the island- will they make it out alive?
The author of Battle Royale, Koushun Takami, was removed from school at 15 and forced to work in a munitions factory. When the factory was bombed by the Allies, he survived by hiding under a pile of bodies and was made to bury his classmates then get back to work. He mistrusted the Japanese government, as they had led him to believe his country was winning World War II. Both the book and the film have influenced horror writer Stephen King and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, who hired the actress Chiaki Kuriyama, who played Girl #13, to play Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill: Volume 1 (both characters wear distinctive Japanese uniforms and castrate their male attackers) Takami has responded positively to claims that Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins “ripped off” his novel- he thanked fans for coming to his defence, but urged them not to abuse Collins, stating that “every book has its merits”. Collins claims to have never read Battle Royale, but the similarities- particularly the clock-themed trials in Catching Fire– are rather striking. The final instalment in the series is released today, so we encourage you to make up your own minds! Battle Royale is available in the DVD LOBBY 791.430952- The Hunger Games series will be featured in our dystopian display in the Information Store from Monday 23rd November.
The final film based on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series is released today- can you see the similarities with Battle Royale?
If you enjoyed Battle Royale, we recommend:
Takeshi Kitano, who plays Kitano in Battle Royale, is a huge star in Japan. He has directed and starred in numerous gangster films but is probably best known in England as “Count” Takeshi from the gameshow Takeshi’s Castle! Zatoichi (DVD LOBBY 791.430952) is Kitano’s remake of a classic Japanese TV series where a blind swordsman defends a town against Yakuza gangsters. Kitano plays the lead role of Zatoichi and leads the cast in a dance number in the finale! You can read more about Kitano’s filmmaking career in Japanese cinema: Texts and Contexts (BOOK ZONE 791.430952) which also covers classics like Godzilla and Spirited Away.
We’ve covered dystopian fiction before on Between the Lines– follow the links to read about Margaret Atwood’s feminist classic The Handmaid’s Tale, or Melvin Burgess’ Bloodtide, which is set in a broken-down London. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies features murderous young men let loose on an island; the island in The Beach falls very short of its rulers’ Utopian vision. Check out the display in the Information Store or speak to one of our staff for more recommendations.
Jinx! Battle Royale- My Newest Read accessed at https://flic.kr/p/9eoWnV on 19/11/2015
Richter, I Two Degrees: Battle Royale accessed at https://flic.kr/p/aWmGgt on 19/11/2015
Richter, I Two Degrees: Battle Royale accessed at https://flic.kr/p/aWmGhP on 19/11/2015
Richter, I Two Degrees: Battle Royale accessed at https://flic.kr/p/aWmG6B on 19/11/2015
Paul, H The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 accessed at https://flic.kr/p/vQCVqK on 19/11/2015