So, after a weekend of loitering in the Australian bush, dancing like crazy for 12 hours a day and nursing hangovers on my friend’s couch I am back and ready to blog. Whilst nursing aforementioned hangover, I rewatched The Hunger Games, which in turn launched me down the path of re-reading/re-watching the Japanese cult hit that shares a suspiciously similar concept, Battle Royale.
I’m assuming most of you know the concept of The Hunger Games – kids are offered up as tribute to fight to the death in an arena controlled by the government as punishment for a rebellion that tore the country up for a while. Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, uses her hunting skills, brought about by intense poverty, to survive and win the games. Revolution ensues, etc. etc. Battle Royale runs along the same lines. A class of high school students is offered up for “research purposes” to fight to the death on an island controlled by the government. The winner gets to live on a government pension for the rest of their lives and the winner is shown (often sent raving mad and covered in blood) to the public to keep the fear and paranoia going. Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa both manage to survive, but there’s no revolution or glorious ending. They just end up on the run, trying to escape to the US so that they can continue to live.
I’m not pointing out the similarities in plot to criticise. I think both books and their filmic adaptations are trying to achieve something different. They’re also directed at significantly different audiences, so where The Hunger Games has a lot of implied violence, Battle Royale is a mass of gun violence and psychosis.
So, if I’m not here to tear Suzanne Collins apart for ripping off Battle Royale what am I even doing? Excellent question. I was catching up on what I missed in my little week off I came across an article on EW talking about the two new reality shows that American network The CW has ordered for their lineup, one of which is called The Hunt and sounds suspiciously like they’ve turned The Hunger Games into a reality TV show. Wait…in the book it is already a TV show… Well, they’ve just taken the death out of The Hunger Games and put it on TV essentially.
In this show, 12 teams of two are dropped into the forest and have to capture other players in order to win a cash prize. They’ll spend a month running around in the wilderness, using their hunting skills and whatnot to survive. On top of that the network is also apparently developing a drama series based around Battle Royale. Like, not just a sneaky rip off in the way The Hunt sounds like it’s going to be. They’ve actually made calls to Japan to inquire about buying the rights to a TV show. Their reasoning? “Battle Royale comes with a nice cult following, as you all know.” That’s Mark Pedowitz, chief at CW, speaking about it. Heaven forbid they have to come up with an original idea to gain a cult following.
Anyway, having read through the concept for each of the programs I have to say, it sounds like the networks have found a new bandwagon to jump on. For ages there we had the recent resurgence vampire craze, which spawned about a million different things, the most successful of which were The Vampire Diaries and True Blood. We’ve also had a bit of zombie love filling up the airways with The Walking Dead. Game of the Thrones has killed it every which way. So, where to? Well, apparently what we’re all lacking in our day to day is a bit of the ol’ ultraviolence, me lovelies. We want gutsy extreme survival with a bit of blood thrown in for good measure.
There’s something about the network commissioning these shows that, to me, smacks of irony.These books both show total government control. Battle Royale in particular can be read both as a rollicking piece of pulp fiction and a critique of governmental power taken to its absolute extreme. Both the book and the film were shrouded in controversy on their release, with various government bodies threatening censorship of the more extreme content. Similarly, both Battle Royale and The Hunger Games show the television as a way of controlling a population. Obviously, it’s a much more prominent trope in The Hunger Games where the games are broadcast as a television program, but it exists in the Japanese story as well, with the main character having flashbacks of seeing a female winner of the battle brought before the cameras, covered in blood and cackling.
So, to me (and feel free to stop me if you think differently), with these books and films presenting the kind of commentary that they do, the idea of adapting them for reality television especially seems to have totally missed the point. Kind of like the way Big Brother did when it was first released, having taken the entirety of its concept from something that was essentially a critique of its own existence. I think it’s all a bit ridiculous. What about you? Would you watch The Hunt? Or would you be part of Pedowitz’ ready-made cult audience for a Battle Royale adaptation?