The release of The Hunger Games books in 2008 almost immediately spawned a controversy; that Suzanne Collins had stolen the entire concept for her stories from the 1999 book and later film, Battle Royale. Articles sprang up about the issue on websites like Cracked and Buzzfeed to name a few, and some labelled Collins’ trilogy a massive, shameless rip-off. Which it totally is.
To see why, you only need to watch Battle Royale and the first instalment of The Hunger Games side by side. The similarities are glaringly obvious, with a few differences that I’ll get into in a while. In the most basic of terms, both plots revolve around a bunch of kids being selected, and thrown into an arena where they must fight to the death until only one remains. They already sound like one and the same. Already we can see that the basic premise of The Hunger Games is not an original idea.
Some might argue that nothing’s original anymore, that Battle Royale itself could be the product of a stolen idea and that generally, vast numbers of films, books and art pieces borrow inspiration from various sources. It’s nothing new, and I get it. It’s important to study existing ideas because that’s how we can begin to build our own. As a writer, I’m constantly reading new stuff in the hopes that my own writing will become better for it. But Collins wasn’t just quietly influenced by Battle Royale, she practically took the entire concept and ran with it, adding her own little touch every now and then.
In both films, the kids are let loose into the arena with various weapons either given to them beforehand as in Battle Royale, or left out for them to fight over as in The Hunger Games. Despite this difference the basic point is still there; a range of weapons are left at the disposal of a group of kids, in order to ensure that there are those who are weaker, like those who end up with a frying pan, and those who are stronger, like those with guns or knives.
Of course, these films wouldn’t be truly dystopian without constant surveillance over the kids, which both movies obviously have. In Battle Royale, the kids have to wear explosive collars, which will detonate if they try to mess around with them. These collars contain microphones and GPS locators. While also being closely watched with cameras, the kids in The Hunger Games have trackers in their arms, which keep records of their location, status, and whether or not they’re alive. Once again, there are subtle nuances, but the point remains; both sets of kids are kept under constant surveillance by the higher authority.
Then there are the ‘danger zones’, as they’re referred to in Battle Royale. These are sections of the island that will randomly become dangerous for a certain amount of time; dangerous, in the sense that if any students are in the area during that time, their explosive collars will be detonated, and they will be killed, just to stir things up a bit. The Hunger Games has a very similar system, minus the collars and with a bunch of fire, poison gas and tidal waves added in. In the latter, these dangerous events happen in specific areas, for a certain amount of time. Sound familiar?
There’s even a slight touch of romance in Battle Royale between Shuya and Noriko that’s somewhat akin to that of the romance between Peeta and Katniss in The Hunger Games. There’s the all too familiar obsession of the villain with the female protagonist; Teacher Kitano with Noriko, and President Snow with Katniss. And although ‘The Program’ in the Battle Royale film was created to keep the youth under control, in the original novel it was a military project designed to keep the population too fearful to revolt against the government. Sounds a lot like the reason ‘The Hunger Games’ were invented; to keep an uprising from happening.
There are of course, many differences between the two stories. I can’t deny that. However, there are some differences between the two that can easily be explained away. Some argue that the two take place in entirely different locations, which is true; Battle Royale in a police state version of Japan, The Hunger Games in what used to be North America. But this is simply cultural difference. Of course Japanese Koushun Takami was more likely to set his story in Japan, while American Suzanne Collins was more likely to set hers in America.
Others argue that ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘The Program’ are different in ways. The kids in The Hunger Games are given training, whereas those in Battle Royale are simply thrust in at the deep end. And sure, ‘The Hunger Games’ seem to be a lot more sophisticated and are intended to be watched as entertainment by the masses, unlike in Battle Royale. But as I mentioned before, the same basic concept is still there; Collins has just sexed hers up quite a bit. Perhaps, once again, it’s cultural difference too. It makes sense that Collins would want to mirror the media of her country, with its constant barrage of news, reality TV and superficiality.
Now, I’m not trying to hate on The Hunger Games at all. I actually enjoyed both the books and the movies, and I understand that there are differences I can’t explain, unlike the ones above. Collins really fleshed out The Hunger Games by writing it as a trilogy. She explored the romance between Peeta and Katniss, she wrote it so that the uprising did eventually happen and the corrupt government were overthrown, she created an entire world, the world of Panem, amongst other things that I haven’t even mentioned. I respect that and all of that work is to her credit. Despite that, Battle Royale doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what it, essentially, did first, and Collins won’t even admit that it inspired her, which doesn’t mean it didn’t.
As a result, Battle Royale has lost out. Many people wrote articles about the whole rip-off deal, sure, but ultimately The Hunger Games took off, the controversy was somewhat overshadowed by its success and people stopped giving a damn. Battle Royale and the novel’s author, Koushun Takami, are barely even heard of, hence why the movie’s labelled a cult classic. Once again, I don’t believe The Hunger Games should have to suffer. I just believe that while it prospers and receives incredible praise and credit, perhaps credit should also be given to that which came before.