The Japanese modern classic genre film Battle Royale (2000) has finally made its way to DVD and Blu-Ray in the United States for the first time. And the only reason it's seeing any kind of release at all is most assuredly because of that other movie that hit theaters this past weekend. While I went into The Hunger Games having never read the books and with an open mind, forgiving it for a similar concept, I was admittedly shocked at how character types and even specific moments were borrowed from the beloved Japanese film. All I plan to do about this is open as many eyes to the original film as I can. So without further ado, I present a retrospective on Battle Royale and how it has changed the genre (not just of horror, but of film) since its release.
Battle Royale has one of the best concepts in modern horror. As part of the government's BR Act, a class of 13 year-olds are chosen at random and delivered to a remote island where all 42 of them are given three days to fight to the death. There can be only one winner. If more than one student is left when the time runs out, all are killed. If you try to tamper with your collar, it will explode, and you will die. Zones around the island are rigged to detonate the collar at regular intervals, so that if you do not keep moving, you will die.
There is one concept, however, that forms the core of the movie, and it is the one thing I could not believe the Hunger Games chose not to adapt. These people aren't chosen at random, only the class. Once you are put on this island, the people you are forced to kill are people you see every day, and you realize how quickly friends can become enemies. These kids do not spend their lives preparing for the Battle Royale. When it happens, they are completely unprepared. Character is the core of the movie (and the book by Koushun Takami, upon which the film is based) and it is the driving force behind it. We feel like we're right there with these kids when they are forced to do the unthinkable, and once the tension rises it never drops throughout the course of the film. In turn, the camera never shies away from the violence. And the very concept of this story is something that MUST be told violently, to get the point across, or it should not be made at all. These are the major concepts of Battle Royale that are absent in The Hunger Games, and with such a similar story, that absence is noticeable.
Both works have their differences and stand on their own. Both have their absolute merits. However, with the tension of the story and the necessary violence that make Battle Royale the film it is, I do not believe that the recent blockbuster holds a candle to the Japanese masterpiece.
Immediately after viewing Battle Royale, Quentin Tarantino called it his favorite film of the last 20 years, citing that he only "wished I had made it myself." He even wound up casting Chiaki Kuriyama as deadly assassin "Gogo" in Kill Bill: Volume 1.
While it is a Japanese movie and still fairly recent, Battle Royale feels very much like an American '70's horror film in its unrelenting violence and tension. Whether this is an intentional move or not, I feel that it is still at least partly responsible for the 70's revisionist boom that happened post-2000, as seen in films like House of 1,000 Corpses and High Tension (both 2003), Wrong Turn (2004), The Devil's Rejects (2005), The House of the Devil (2009) and many more, as well as remakes of notable classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and The Last House on the Left (2009).
Without even seeing release in this country until barely a week ago, Battle Royale nonetheless changed the landscape of horror throughout the world, and its influence on American cinema cannot go unnoticed. Even if it is never a household name, the influence is there. But to the American public, Battle Royale will sadly go the way of fellow Japanese horror films like Ringu (The Ring) and Ju-On (The Grudge), and be doomed to only be known through its American remake.