Next on the list is a double feateure, BATTLE ROYALE and BATTLE ROYALE II, otherwise known as THOSE TWO FILMS SUZANNE COLLINS COMPLETELY RIPPED OFF. I’m going to review them together, allows for a little compare and contrast.
Let’s start with BATTLE ROYALE (and the popular opinion is that it should have ended with BATTLE ROYALE). Not so distant future? Check. Dystopic world? Check. A nightmarish reality that current us’ couldn’t ever see coming to pass? Check. A lot of dead kids? Check. It sounds just like THE HUNGER GAMES, right? Well, way before that, it was the ingredients for BATTLE ROYALE (and before that it was a manga, and there’s a 1952 short story that is distantly related by Ralph Ellison). Okay, promise there won’t be any more hate on THE HUNGER GAMES, but man do I hate that fricken’ film. Not just because it’s numerous similarities to BATTLE ROYALE (and even a few bits of BATTLE ROYALE II), but also because I just don’t think it’s a good movie, any of them.
In the beginning, there is reading, catching you up on what’s going on in the present of the world of BATTLE ROYALE. In a not so distant future Japan, kids are numerous, and acting like little bastards, so the adults saw to it that the Millennium Education Enforcement Act which basically means each year a ninth grade class will be chosen at random, placed on a deserted island, and forced to fight to the death until only one remains. After all of the reading we finally get to some visuals. A bus carrying this year’s Battle Royale participants (who of course don’t know they’re the chosen class) where we are given a bit of information on which students are friends, would-be lovers, etc. This is important to us as the audience because we know what they don’t, that by the end of the film those bonds will be tested. After that, they all pass out, due to—I’m assuming—some sort of gas on the bus.
Next thing they know they’re waking up on the bus quite some time later just in time for it to reach its destination, as they are hurried off the bus into an orientation room. Now things start to get weird.
I’m not exactly sure how to best describe this pivotal character, but I’m going to try my best. They meet the man in charge of the Battle Royale (for that year, at least, not very well stated if he’s always done them or not), who happens to be their one-time teacher, who got stabbed by one of the students back in his teacher days (which is what made him quit…I think). He tries explaining what they’re there for, but then goes ahead and plays a VHS orientation video, which stars an extremely peppy young woman telling them about their packs, maps, bomb zones, winning, losing, all with a big smile on her face. It’s so weird.
So the idea at this point is to do a roll call, boy-girl-boy-girl style, at which point the student receives their pack (with necessities and an item of some sort ranging from the helpful, like a gun, to the not-very-helpful, like a pot lid), and gets a bit of a head start on the next pair of students. At which point they have three days to be the survivor of the 42 students, or else they all die. At which point, the shit really hits the fan.
What happens next is a lot of crazy, depressing, cruel, occasionally uplifting, series of moments. Two kids who don’t want to play jump off of a cliff to their deaths, one girl becomes a black widow (screw ‘em and then kill ‘em), a group of friends become so paranoid they all kill each other, and some computer nerds bond together to try and hack their way out of the mess.
But through it all, is the teacher. The actual protagonists are a guy and a girl that try to rise above the game, the guy flashes back to coming home one day and finding his father had suicide-by-hanging. Meanwhile, the girl, has some sort of friendship with the former teacher in charge of the Battle Royale. He brings her an umbrella at one point, but hell if I could tell if that was reality or fantasy. He clearly has a soft spot for her. Then there is this flashback to he and her eating popsicles together…which I could analyze, but I think it’s too easy a shot to take. But at one point she has a dream of the teacher, and they’re both speaking to each other from a distance between them, but there’s no audio, just moving mouths. The problem with this is whereas I can read lips in movies sometimes, I can’t read lips speaking a foreign language, and there are no subtitles in that scene. This frustrates me greatly.
In the end, (And no, I’m not going to attempt to make sense of the incredibly messed up, surreal ending of this film), BATTLE ROYALE partly parallels how cruel teenagers can be (blowing it way out of proportion, but the message is still there), and partly about the division between adult and child. And where THE HUNGER GAMES only flirts with violence and cruelty, and then cuts before you really see anything on a BATTLE ROYALE scale. BATTLE ROYALE revels in its violence, and for good reason, it is a terrible, awful, thing to have to watch and contemplate, that if it did shy away from the violence, the audience wouldn’t have the appropriate reaction to this film.
As for BATTLE ROYALE II, ummmmmmm…it happened,? Not many people (myself included) were happy with it. Honestly they should have quit while they were ahead. Story goes that a new set of schoolchildren are sent to the island, but the goal is not to kill each other, but rather to kill the rebel children (led by the survivor(s?) of the first film) that are after the adults. BATTLE ROYALE II has none of the elements that make the first one memorable, or good. It’s a bit of a different beast entirely, which unfortunately means it is lost in the same limbo as dozens of other action films. Without anything gut-punchingly meaningful, the film is not a worthy follow-up.
But it’s still better than anything related to The Hunger Games Franchise.