TOKYO – The story takes place in a dystopian future.
A tyrannical government, fearful of its youth, forces teens to fight to their death in a televised game.
Forty-two high school students are taken to a deserted island, given survival packs and random weapons, and told to hunt and kill one another, until there’s just one survivor – the winner – left.
The plotline is a familiar one to fans of the popular book series “The Hunger Games,” but this movie, released eight years before Suzanne Collins’s books, takes place in Japan. Released in 2000, “Battle Royale,” based on a 600-page novel by Japanese author Koushun Takami, became an instant cult classic, winning critical acclaim from Hollywood heavyweights such as director Quentin Tarantino, who called the violent film “his favorite movie of the last 20 years.”
But the movie was never distributed in the United States because the film was deemed too gory at the time, in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings. With “The Hunger Games” movie set for release Friday, fans of the Japanese classic have raised new questions about the authenticity of Collins’ film, sparking a fierce debate online.
Critics of the U.S. film have taken to Twitter to accuse Collins of “ripping off” a Japanese original. Her fans have posted YouTube videos defending the authenticity of the book’s plotline. Grievances have been aired on Facebook pages, titled “Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale” and “Hunger Games wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Battle Royale.”
Questions about Takami’s book have dogged Collins since she released her popular series in 2008, although the author has flatly denied prior knowledge of the book at every step.
She told the New York Times last year, ”I had never heard of that book or that author until my book was turned in. At that point, it was mentioned to me, and I asked my editor if I should read it. He said: “No, I don’t want that world in your head. Just continue what you’re doing.”
The Times said Collins had yet to read the book or see the movie, although it’s unclear whether the author has sought out the film since.
In a video posted by her publisher Scholastic, Collins says the storyline was instead inspired by reality-TV and the Iraq war. “These two things started to fuse together in a very unsettling way,” she says.
Both Toei, the distributor of the Japanese film and the son of late director Kinji Fukasaku, declined ABC News’ requests for an interview, saying it would be premature to comment without reading the book or watching the movie.
Author Takami said he was amused by the whole debate, but said he appreciated fans “standing up” for his book.
“I think every novel has something to offer,” Takami told ABC News, in an email. “If readers find value in either book, that’s all an author can ask for.”
Still, the similarities are difficult to ignore. Both evolve around children who are picked at random to take part in a death match. Participants are given duffel bags containing random weapons. The tyrannical government ships them off to a remote location, where they are told to kill and fight for survival.
Collins’ fans say the similarities end there. For one, “The Hunger Games” is told in narrative form, through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen, unlike “Battle Royale.” While the Japanese film is about the fight for survival, fans argue the U.S. movie is about a revolution.
It is a science-fiction film that takes place in a distant future, in a dramatically different environment. “Battle Royale” also takes place in the future, but society remains relatively unchanged for the characters, meaning they’re familiar with the weapons and technology involved in the game.
The ongoing debate has meant welcome publicity for Anchor Bay Entertainment, which just released a four-disc set called “Battle Royale: The Complete Collection” on DVD and Blu-ray, the first time the Japanese film and its sequel have been widely distributed in the United States.
The trailer references the upcoming movie, quoting a movie critic who writes “without ‘Battle Royale,’ there would be no ‘The Hunger Games.’ This is the movie that started it all.”
While bootlegs and imports have made the film a cult phenomenon in the past decade, the film was considered highly controversial when it first debuted in Japan. The country’s ratings board fought to give the movie an 18-plus rating – the equivalent of a rated R – because of its graphic depiction of violence, despite protests by the director himself.
This isn’t the first time Hollywood has been accused of borrowing Japanese story lines. In 1995, Disney’s “The Lion King” was accused of ripping off the Japanese animation series “Kimba, the White Lion.”
The company denied the charges, saying the similarities were coincidence.