I have not been watching enough television… no, no, no, that’s not right. I’ve been watching too much television (isn’t watching any television too much television?) – what I mean is that my television watching has been too unfocused. I waste my meager allotment of precious time with sports or my obsession with How It’s Made/How do They Do That/Modern Marvels (por ejemplo – do you have any idea how much work goes into making a tennis ball?). I want to stop that and start working my way down my Netflix Queue – especially the twisted obscure crap that feeds my imagination.
In that regard, I watched too similar (yet completely different) films that I’ve been meaning to check out. I finally came around and caught The Hunger Games on Netflix, and then, last night, stayed up too late and watched a wild and controversial Japanese film from a decade ago called Battle Royale.
I had not read the books from The Hunger Games and now, I’m know I won’t. I had heard a lot of good things and, sure enough, The Hunger Games was a well-acted, slick, excellent production of a popular story and it was a serious disappointment to me. It was simply too Young Adult for my tastes.
Then there is Battle Royale. People say that Battle Royale is the inspiration for The Hunger Games – though the Suzanne Collins claims to have never read the book or seen the film. The overall concept is similar – a group of teenagers trapped in an isolated area and forced to fight each other to the death.
However, there are more differences than similarities. The Hunger Games is a carefully calibrated teen vehicle where the most horrific aspects of the godawful situation are concealed and glossed over – making a tale which is unsavory on the surface palatable for the masses. Battle Royale, on the other hand, pulls no punches. It is an unfettered tsunami of death… a tornado of gore, terror, and raw emotion. It is deeply disturbing. The ultra-violence makes A Clockwork Orange look like Barney.
Both films have political overtones. The Hunger Games concentrates on class warfare in an Occupy Wall Street inspired tale of the wealthy versus the poor – the monied, powerful elite oppressing and suppressing the unwashed, starving masses. Battle Royale has a more subtle, complex take. It is, first of all, a conflict of generations. The young people are out of control – it starts with a student stabbing his teacher – and the older generation decides to take revenge.
It is the story of a traditionalist society unraveling, of personal vendetta and obsession, of child abuse and the sins of the fathers’ hoisted on the young. Above all, it is about the Zero Sum Game and the idea that none of us, really, gets out of this alive.
The Hunger Games is modeled after television reality shows, while Battle Royale takes the form of an adolescent fever-spawned nightmare.
The Hunger Games has beautiful model-like specimens of perfection running around in a well-lit carefully manicured park-like setting, while Battle Royale is gritty, dark and more than a little rough around the edges. Instead of a shiny bow and arrow, the contestants in Battle Royale are each given a random weapon – some useful, some not. Some get submachine guns while the hero gets the lid from a cooking pot.
The Hunger Games contestants are carefully selected and trained, while in Battle Royale a class of forty students (half girls and boys) are gassed while on a school trip and thrown together on an island with no preparation other than a cute, silly instructional video. That means they all know each other well beforehand – and the usual alliances, crushes, and hatreds of the young come forward as a matter of life and death.
The Hunger Games is broadcast as an entertainment for a worldwide audience… like the ultimate Roman Gladiatorial Extravaganza. It is a spectacle for and about the media. On the other hand, the Battle Royale itself is not even televised. The authorities seem to stage the Battle Royale mostly because… well, because they can.
One interesting section of Battle Royale is when the members of the school’s Cheerleading squad are shown hiding out in the luminous whitewashed lighthouse. They are organized, have set up a watch schedule, a kitchen, an infirmary, and have settled into what appears to be a polite, happy, domesticated, and insulated clique. They are shown cooking and carefully cleaning – wiping down the tables before a meal. However the horror of their situation is running right under the surface and all it takes is a plate of spaghetti eaten by the wrong person to set everything off. Minutes later, they have all slaughtered each other – with the last survivor throwing herself off the lighthouse into the rocks below. One exclaims while dying, “I at least thought I’d live until tomorrow.”
In a movie with an ensemble cast like this it is fun to try and spot actors you’ve seen elsewhere. Sure enough, playing Takako Chigusa (Girl #13) in Battle Royale is Chiaki Kuriyama who played Gogo Yubari in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1. I’ve always thought that the fight to the death between Gogo and Beatrix Kiddo is the best fight scene in pretty much any movie. It’s no coincidence; Quentin Tarantino is a fan of Battle Royale and based Gogo on Chigusa. I kept expecting Chigusa to pull a chain with a spiked ball on the end out of her weapons bag.
Now, the important question… what to watch next? I haven’t decided but I have it narrowed down to two that I have on DVR – Sharknado or La Traviata. They’re sort of the same thing… aren’t they? La Traviata is basically Sharknado plus tuberculosis.