Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
What It’s About: (via Wikipedia)
The story tells of junior high school students who are forced to fight each other to the death in a program run by the authoritarian Japanese government, now known as the Republic of Greater East Asia.
I watched the Battle Royale movie as one of my Blind Spot choices this year (review HERE). I really liked it but my one complaint was that it felt a bit more “shallow” than I’d been expecting. So I picked up the (very thick!) book in the hopes that I’d get more of an in-depth look into why these children are being forced to fight to the death and to also get to know the characters and their motivations a bit better. I now have to say that reading the book if you’ve already seen the movie isn’t necessarily needed…
Don’t get me wrong – I liked the book a lot so I don’t feel like I wasted my time on this (very thick!) novel. I did get to know the characters better, especially the main three that are followed (Shuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa & Shogo Kawada). It was also cool to get a good few pages or sometimes even several chapters (mostly on the best friends of our main character) devoted to each and every one of the 42 students in the Battle Royale program.
However, the film is quite faithful to the book & I didn’t learn much more than I did from the movie. And what did get changed for the film actually worked for the better, I think. This was especially true of the changes to the man in charge of the group, Kinpatsu Sakamochi. I was surprised to find, in the novel, that he actually has no prior attachment in any way to these students while there’s an interesting link in the film. Also, the film pushes the girl (Noriko Nakagawa) front and center a bit more while she’s the least-developed of the main characters in the book & it’s very much the boy (Shuya Nanahara) who is the star. The book’s male characters are better developed overall than its females are but, again, I did appreciate getting to know the extra characters in the book as the movie obviously couldn’t devote time to all 42 of them.
All in all, Battle Royale is a thoroughly entertaining (and gory) book & film. It has a message of sorts but I feel it’s sort of lost in the gore. I can now see why Quentin Tarantino loves the film as it feels like violence for the sake of violence. I do now have to admit that The Hunger Games is indeed very close plot-wise in so many ways that it’s understandable why Battle Royale fans called that series a rip-off. The Hunger Games is Battle-Royale-Lite, though – both are considered Young Adult in their country of origin but the violence is far more excessive in this novel. Just a warning – I doubt anyone will be handing this book over to their 13-year-old to read anyway. I feel kind of “bad” for enjoying this one as the violence seems excessive. But I really liked the main characters & getting to know all the other students, the action and pacing worked well, it was a fairly quick read (despite being very thick!), and that whole Lord Of The Flies setup is still an intriguing one. But you really can just watch the movie if you don’t fancy the (really thick!) novel.
My Rating: 4/5
Glad you liked it – although I still think people will get a better understanding of the social commentary and Takami’s intended message from the book than the film. I also think some of the stunts the student pulled to survive should have made it into the film – the toilet scene for one.
If you can stomach the sexually explicit and extreme graphic content once more the manga version offers a very different take on the characters and their backstories, along with its own interpretation of the actual game itself. 😉
I have to say it was quite a faithful film, though, considering the length of the book. : ) I’m glad I read it! But I’m kind of a wuss so it’s likely the manga may be too much for me… ; )
I think of Battle Royale as the inverse of Logan’s Run. Logan’s run kills off adults at a certain age. It is for population control but some of the analyses of the book and film I’ve read have discussed that the culture differences of the youth and the older population at the time of the writing that influenced it to reflect a sort of distrust and fear of the older generation that would instigate such a drastic solution to dwindling resources and over population. Battle Royale’s opening sequence indicates the older generation fears and distrusts the younger generation’s violent tendencies so they create this as a solution. Every year it kills off one entire classroom of students. By observing this event, it somehow curbs the violent tendencies of the rest of the people. (I don’t think it is filmed like Hunger Games, but I think there was a radio broadcast of events.) Perhaps under the same concept that Roman gladiatorial events helped channel the violent urges of the population as they cheered on their favorites instead of acting out themselves. I’m not sure that really works but I understand the concept. Both books and films have, as an underlying core to the stories, fear and distrust of the other generation. But a culture that venerates the elderly (as a cultural ideal if not in practice) they kill the younger people and a culture that venerates youth they kill off the older people.
That’s very true… I never thought of it compared to Logan’s Run. But, yeah – they care so much more about “youth” in Western society whereas Japan has that respect for their elders thing that we sadly don’t seem to have in our part of the world (I clearly prefer that way of thinking as I’m more of an “elder” than youth). ; ) You’ve made me want to re-watch Logan’s Run! I’m really glad I read Battle Royale but I still feel that both the book & film don’t QUITE get their point across. Possibly due to the violence feeling excessive…
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I always meant to read this after watching the film, but never got round to buying it, and then it went out of print, and… now I don’t read enough. But maybe one day! Sounds like I might like it.
It’s fun but the film really is pretty faithful. It was just nice getting more of a background on certain characters. It’s a damn long book, though! However, it didn’t FEEL that way… It was an enjoyable, fairly quick read. : )
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