So this week marks the big debut of the Hunger Games movie, a film which, if my Facebook feed is any indication, is insanely popular. But before the Hunger Games came along, there was another book/movie combo about teenagers brutally slaughtering each other, a Japanese franchise with a cultish following: Battle Royale. And guess what?
It’s coming out on (legal) DVD and BluRay! (The screenshots here are from the grainy and poorly translated copy that I bought when I lived in Japan, so yeah, I probably need to upgrade.)
In a lot of ways, BR and the Hunger Games are very similar. Both are about teenagers forced to brutally slaughter one another at the whims of a strange and sadistic government. Both follow a pair of potential love interests clinging to the hope that they can subvert the rules and both get out alive. Both have themes of trust versus uncertainty and man’s inhumanity to man. But that’s where the similarities end...
[More pics and the original trailer after the jump...]
I can’t speak for the movie, but in the book, the Hunger Games spends the first third in a confusion of pretty dresses, public interviews, and decadent meals as the Tributes prepare for the Arena. BR doesn’t bother. The movie kicks off with a shot of last year’s winner, then moves directly onto the bus that’s currently driving a 9th grade class to their deaths. You know things have really gone wrong when the bus’s adorable, uniformed hostess suddenly turns around in a gas mask and bashes a student on the head.
|Cute girls will kill you.|
|Kiriyama is a big fan of The Crow|
As villains go, you’re spoiled for choice. There’s Kitano, the class’s former teacher and current leader of the games, but he’s more of a menacing background presence and ultimately kind of sad. (He’s played by famous Japanese comedian Beat Takeshi.)
Then there’s my personal favorite villain, Mitsuko. Mitsuko was the leader of the mean-girl clique in the class, a pretty and popular girl who got all the guys. It’s clear she has self-esteem issues (the book slowly unravels a long history of abuse, although the movie doesn’t bother) and sees winning the game as her best chance of redemption. She’s terrifying because of her skill at manipulation, and fun to watch because of her cool and ruthless detachment. I don’t want to give away too much, but at one point you get awesome villain-on-villain action.
|Mitsuko likes to be creepy|
Once the Battle begins, the story unfolds in a series of vignettes, mostly of deaths or dealing with deaths or walking around trying to avoid deaths. The themes of trust and distrust are played out again and again, but none more poignantly than in the lighthouse scene. In the lighthouse, we find 5 BFF girls who have managed to find one another and hole up in what are essentially the most luxurious digs on the island. Unfortunately, the intrusion of an outsider causes one of them to panic, and in an ill-advised attempt at self defense, she accidentally kills one of her friends. In the resulting panic, each of the girls blames the others, and they quickly turn on each other. It goes from friendly lunch to grisly bloodbath in the blink of an eye. It’s a great scene and a nice little microcosm of the entire movie.
|Hunger Games? Who has time to eat?|
|Bloody Blu-Ray package|
Battle Royale is finally available in the US.
Get your copy today.