I'm sure you guys are pretty burned out on Hunger Games - and to those who haven't seen the movie or read the books, I bet it's as if seeing all these news reports on Lady Gaga. Well for your consideration, I've waited a pretentious amount of time to publish this editorial (13 days) in reference to Mockingjay (the most hated book of the trilogy).
The goal of this editorial is to ATTEMPT to wipe away the initial criticism that is associated with Koushun Takami's "Battle Royale", its movie companion, and Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" series.
In order to do so, unfortunately, there will be SPOILERS for ALL of the material in question, including the books "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay", so be warned.
Starting in chronological order...
Battle Royale (published in 1999 at 576* pages, adapted into a live-action film and
manga in 2000)
This story (told from a third-person omniscient narrative) is about 42 students from the same 7th grade class who have been drugged and kidnapped by the government to participate in the "Program" on an abandoned island. Waking up with explosive collars that will detonate if tampered with, or if they are inside the grid-like "forbidden zone"... they are told by a sadistic instructor that they are to kill each other until there is only one left. If in 72 hours there is not a single "winner", then all collars will detonate. Each student is given a bag with a random "weapon" and a negligible survival kit and sent on their way to kill their childhood friends and rivals.
Life is a game. So fight for survival and see if you're worth it.
Hunger Games (published in 2008 at 374 pages, adapted into a live action film in 2012)
This story (told from a first-person narrative) is about Katniss Everdeen, a girl who has been doing everything possible to keep her family scraping by since she was 10, who has just volunteered as tribute for her little sister in the "Reaping" to participate in the 74th annual "Hunger Games". From her district, she is taken along with a male tribute to be groomed at the Capitol, where they will have to play politics to acquire "sponsors" before entering the titular event known as the Hunger Games - where she is to kill 23 other tributes on national television. But the Games are rigged with all kinds of "weapons" for the enjoyment of the Capitol viewers, and if they don't satisfy their demands, the Gamemakers might just kill them with the arena.
Not only is your life in their hands, but you have to make them like you.
While it looks as though I am favoring Hunger Games, truthfully (as far as the books are concerned) I enjoy Battle Royale more. The thing is, they couldn't be more different from each other, especially their movie counterparts. While Battle Royale is a pretty straightforward story of survival, starting the killing off of students the Program 35 pages into the book*, Hunger Games starts the bloodshed 151 pages into its book. Do the math here 541 out of 576 is 94%, while 223 out of 374 is 60%. That's a pretty big difference, especially if you consider that Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy, and while yes, the Hunger Games do take place in "Catching Fire" (and that is only after page 270 of 391 - 30%), they are completely removed from "Mockingjay".
The Hunger Games is a plot device used by the "Capitol" to control the 12 districts of "Panem". The higher the number, the poorer the district. Food is strictly rationed and the stock is heavily guarded, while theft is considered (no pun intended) a capital crime. With the Hunger Games coming every year, the children of these districts have an "opportunity" among them - enter your name in the lottery (Reaping) more than once and for each additional entry your household is given an extremely small increase in grain (that year). These entries are not emptied, so every year your chances of getting picked grow higher and higher. As Gale remarks at the beginning of the movie: he has entered his name in 42 times to take care of his siblings. The reason children are used (between 12 and 18 years-old) is for the Capitol to demonstrate their power - their ability to take away loved ones and essentially, their future. In the movie, President Snow comments that the Games have a victor to give the districts hope, not a lot of hope as that would be dangerous, but enough to get by.
(Leaning ever-so-slightly on the fourth wall)
Eventually the Games and Katniss' defiance of them become fuel for a rebellion. Katniss involuntarily becomes a symbol (although she just wants to be left alone) of the resistence, and is used (sometimes against her will) for the benefit of the rebellion. I'm going to go right out and tell you that the trilogy, feels more like a rip-off of Star Wars than Battle Royale. The Hunger Games is the Capitol's Death Star. Even still, I've only described the thematic setting and not even the entire backstory for Suzanne Collins' books. Ceasing the comparison to the books, I'll start describing the differences between the movies Battle Royale and Hunger Games.
Battle Royale is an extremely low-budget splatter film with zero stunt doubles, 43 death scenes (41 of which depict child actors), and will at times take a dip into some extremely black comedy. The action scenes are surprisingly well-choreographed (maybe not too surprising, considering this was the director's 70th film) albeit extremely unrealistic, and are used to move the movie forward. The violence is at the forefront of the picture, with weapons such as a sickle, an Uzi, a shotgun, a crossbow, and a hatchet utilized in particularly gruesome ways. In Hunger Games, director Gary Ross adapts Suzanne Collins' style with the violence - it is there, but it is brief and almost non-descript. So many characters are killed off screen, while those who do face their deaths on camera are somewhat censored by different angles and the often-criticized shaky camera. The violence is not the main event, not something to be depicted with style, awe, or aspiration - but a tragic event.
Apart from the backgrounds (which is only slightly explored in each movie) being extremely different, what definitely sets Battle Royale apart from Hunger Games is the characterization. Of course, there's no time for an in-depth exploration of all 42 seventh graders, but you would be surprised at how much personality these characters have in Battle Royale. Director Kinji Fukasaku knew these kids weren't all going to give exceptional performances and therefore "encouraged" (polite way to put it) them to exaggerate everything. Nanahara's cries of angst and despair (which do get annoying), Kawada's severity and gruffness (which do not get annoying), Kiriyama's sadistic passion for killing, Mimura's cool-headed intelligence (probably my favorite character), Mitsuko's predatory style of killing, and so much more... these characters have depth even on screen. In Hunger Games, the characters truthfully are not very interesting, and some of the actors seem to fail with their performances. While, like the book, there isn't a whole lot to work with considering it is all told from Katniss' perspective and she is not good at making friends - there is that empty feeling as we are pretty much forced to not care about anyone but Katniss.
(The Careers are more of an embarrassment than a menace)
And that is where the comparisons end. One rebels against violence, the other revels in it. I honestly think that once Catching Fire comes out, the uproar will be about the similarities between it and Empire Strikes Back, Mockingjay and Return of the Jedi (with PTSD). Battle Royale will be all but forgotten, and then I think those who swear Suzanne Collins' ripped off Koushun Takami will be scoffed at all the more.
*The version translated in English