Hunger Games v. Battle Royale

[Disclaimer: I have read the entire Hunger Games trilogy but have not (yet) seen the movie.]

First off, if you have not watched the analysis videos of the Hunger Games on Feminist Frequency, you should do that. Go ahead:

And comparing film and book:

I pretty much agree with everything in these videos, which is why I actually liked the Japanese film “Battle Royale” better than the Hunger Games even though it is extremely objectionable in terms of gender.

One of the ways in which Battle Royale has a better background story than Hunger Games is in the conflict between youth and adult cultures. In HG, it is hard to envision parents not rebelling every year at the idea of sending two of their children for the Games just like that. BR deals with that aspect much better: both stories involve economic and then social collapse. In BR, the social collapse has been marked by an explosion of deviant youth culture across the country, turning adults against the youthful mobs and their criminal behavior. It is therefore not surprising that the BR Act would be passed and that no one would raise issues with randomly picking a class of 9th graders to fight each other to death. That is seen as generational punishment and complete breakdown between adults and adolescents. In HG, picking young people makes the fights more lively and interesting for the audience. After all, it’s all a spectacle. In BR, it is punishment by proxy.

Because this is a Japanese film, there is no avoidance of violence and gore but there is also a lot more humanity in all the contestants whereas in the HG, a few contestants are humanized (mainly, Katniss, Peeta and Rue) and the rest are largely either not explored or dehumanized (like the career tributes, depicted as sadistic and murderous sociopaths, even though it is not really their fault, they were socialized to be like that). Anita Sarkeesian makes the good point that in the film, though, the female tributes are depicted as especially sociopathic whereas Cato gets some humanization towards the end.

So, yes, BR is much more gruesomely violent (audiences under 15 were not allowed, whereas the HG film limited the violence to get a PG13 rating). One could debate the issue of glamorizing the violence or emphasizing other aspects. What I thought was interesting in BR is how much of the violence is horrifying to the teenagers themselves. And that is one of the major aspects of BR: a lot of the killings are clumsy, inadvertent, and side-effects of other dynamics than just pure murderous intent, such as just being scared s!@#$less.

Many deaths occur because teenagers just plucked from their school life simply do not know how to become competent killers. Some give up right away and commit suicide (fatalistic suicide), some kill each other by mistake because they were afraid (as when Kotohiki kills Sugimura even though he was coming to get her to safety). But even the one girl who gets closed to being seen as a sociopathic killer gets humanized and we get an explanation for her behavior (her addicted, prostituting mother selling her to men).

It is also noteworthy that right away, several of the teenagers constitute themselves in teams not to kill more effectively but to figure out solutions even though that is done along traditional gender lines: two girls just shout out to the other to just not fight and meet to talk it over (before being killed by one of the two former winners still in the game) while three geek boys get to work on a computer solution, hacking into the surveillance system of the game.

Finally, the main couple, Shuya and Noriko, play the traditional role: he protects her, she falls ill and slips into a mild coma for a while while he runs around trying to find a way out, ending up locked up in the lighthouse with a bunch of girls who end up killing each other based on old grudges from schools and also based on a stupid mistake… pfft… girls.

In a way, the concept of the game in BR is worse than HG as it takes an entire class of 9th graders who know each other and may be friends and then make them kill each other, as opposed to the tributes who only know the other tribute from their own districts thanks to the absolute segregation between districts. And BR does a good job of presenting the existing relations and collective primary groups feelings between the students with flashbacks to the basketball games (although, again, highly gendered: the boys play the game, the girls cheer from the sidelines).

And as in the HG, the main couple does survive but instead of the Gamemakers bending the rules this one time and declaring them both victors, in BR, they end up wanted for murder, completely alienated from the rest of the culture and living on the run. And even though they are still teenagers, their maturing is obvious. Because the game, in BR, is a punishment for a loathed generation, there are no rewards for the victors except that they get to go home whereas in HG, the Games are one of the means through which the Capitol maintains control (the whole Panem and circenses thing) through a divide and conquer institution that provides entertainment for the Capitol and reinforced powerlessness for the districts.

Interestingly, in BR, we, the real audience, are the audience for the game as we get to see the countdown of deaths (from 42 to the end) on our screen. That is, we are made to be the adult audience watching the teenagers killing each other with no chance of escape. That is a deliberate directorial choice. Note that the same thing sorta happens inadvertently in the HG movie with the death of Foxface whose killing made real movie audience cheer. BR does not expect such cheering on any death. Every single death, in BR is truly portrayed as tragic and useless in that annual culling, which is why we are made to watch them all, with blood and gore.

In that sense, BR makes a stronger point to the audience than HG.

2 thoughts on “Hunger Games v. Battle Royale

  1. “the career tributes, depicted as sadistic and murderous sociopaths, even though it is not really their fault, they were socialized to be like that”
    Why would it matter if it were their fault? They’re sadistic and murderous sociopaths either way.

    Compare these:
    “the ancient soldiers of [pick a ‘civilization’], depicted as looters and rapists, even though it is not really their fault, they were socialized to be like that”
    “the white officers of the Force Publique of the Congolese Free State, depicted as mass-murdering, hand-removing sociopaths and rapists, even though it is not really their fault, they were socialized to be like that”
    “the SS-Totenkopfverbände, depicted as genocidal sociopaths, even though it is not really their fault, they were socialized to be like that”

    Also, it’s an obvious truth that fictional characters *are* their depictions.

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