Jennifer Lawrence on the Freedom of Peeing in the Pool

Jennifer Lawrence on the Freedom of Peeing in the Pool

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami: Still Crazy After all These Years

Paperback version of the book.

Originally published in 1999 amid a flurry of controversy that would rise to a cacophony when a film one year later was adapted from the novel, Battle Royale still packs one hell of a punch. The story of a group of Junior High School students who are made to kill each other off until only one remains, still shocks and astounds 13 years after its first appearance in bookstores and libraries across the world.

After reading the book and watching the film of The Hunger Games written by Suzanne Collins, I still find it hard to believe that she never heard of either the original story or film (made by the iconic Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku). I am sure that she is telling the truth as there are enough instances of the two stories (although Collins has spread the Hunger Games stories over three separate books) being vastly different. There are, however quite a few circumstances where the two stories share a lot of things; the contestants being chosen by “lottery” or the packs that each contestant picks up before the battle commences are just two such instantances.

Of course both books are set in “the future” Hunger Games in a post apocalyptic America and Battle Royale in a future Japan that has outstripped America as a world power through the appointment of a dictator and an economy that has reduced the USA to third world country status. Japan’s isolationism has allowed them to indulge in practises that would be frowned upon by other countries.

It is part of this isolated countries culture that random Junior High School classes are picked (by computer) and “kidnapped” by authorities. These 14 and 15-year-old children are then transported to a secret location where they will be armed (some better than others) and set out to kill each other off.

The whole exercise is to show just how equal everyone is in this new Japan. No one is exempt. But like every government that is part of a dictatorship, it is corrupt and unfair, despite the propaganda that tells the masses otherwise. We meet the main players in the Battle and are given enough information that we not only bond with some of the kids, but we can see why the other children act the way they do.

Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa are the boy and girl who wind up together because Shuya’s best friend (who dies before the games even start) had a crush on Noriko and she, in turn, has a crush on Shuya; along with most of the girls in their class.

Shuya is an orphan who loves the state banned American Rock and Roll and has learned to play the electric guitar. He is good at sports and is an all round “good egg.” If anything, he is a bit too good. Noriko and Shuya team up with the older transfer student Shogo Kawada (who has actually played and won a previous Battle Royale). Together they form an alliance to stay alive while facing the murderous psychopath Kazuo Kiriyama and his female counterpart Mitsuko Souma and the other children who are fighting to stay alive till the end of the three day game.

The book is much more political in nature than Collins’ Hunger Games (although she does pay a sort of “lip service” to dictatorships in the books) and it is, despite its xenophobic setting, of a larger scale of international intent. In Takami’s verse the survivors of the games want to run away to the third world country that America has become. It brings to mind that perhaps they will meet Katniss Everdeen when they arrive.

When the film was adapted for the screen by Kinji Fukasaku’s son, it has to be one of the best screenplays ever written. Even though the film did not copy the book page by page, the casting of “unknown” child actors and the iconic Beat Takeshi and the feeling that the director was able to infuse the film with made the movie a run-a-way hit. The film is a cult favourite and is set up to get the “Hollywood” remake treatment.

This is a book that, whether you’ve seen the film or not, is one hell of a ride. You suffer with the kids as they have to kill off their friends and find out who they can trust. The two psychos of the book are truly terrifying and will scare you with their cold-blooded will to survive. There was also a Manga of the book release in several volumes, difficult to find in the UK, but well worth the effort. These Manga’s were almost as entertaining as the book and the film.

My final verdict is a full 5 stars out of 5. Once you pick this book up, you will not want to put it down. And although it’s a little too close to Christmas to come up with ideas of “stocking stuffers” you could do a lot worse than getting a copy of this brilliant book shoved in your stocking.

The equally controversial film with Beat Takeshi

The Hunger Games (2012): Dystopia Versus Utopia

The Girl on Fire

I first read the novel this year in preparation for the world premier of the film that had been adapted from the book. I will not hedge nor will I guild the lily, I only read the book and preprepared myself for the film for one reason and one reason only. To hate them both.

Like a lot of people who have been intellectually blown off their feet by a concept so far beyond anything seen to date in a book and a film that took dystopia filled worlds to a different level, I felt that Suzanne Collins who wrote the original novels had taken a huge leaf out of  1996’s Battle Royale written by Koushun Takami .

I then further decided that the film made from Collins’s book would use as much of the film version of Battle Royale as possible to ensure it’s success.

I knew that this was a blatant rip-off of a Japanese  futuristic film about children killing children that had not even seen the light of day State side until December 2011

Furthermore, I knew all this without ever having read a single line from the book or watching a single trailer from the film.

How comfortably correct and outraged  we allow ourselves to feel, cocooned in the depths of our ignorance.

If you look in my archive you will find a review I did for all three of Suzanne Collins’ books in the Mockingjay Trilogy. So in the area of the novels, at least, I could hold my hand up with an embarrassed grin on my face as I did a 180 degree turnaround on the story, the author and the book’s themselves.

I then waited impatiently for the film adaptation to hit the big screen (which it did at roughly the same time as my review was posted). Unfortunately due to the flow and ebb behaviour of my finances this year, I had to pass on the big screen viewing. Last night, I watched the high-definition downloadable version via iTunes.

Effie

I was not disappointed.

Director Gary Ross (who co-wrote the film’s screenplay with author Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray) manages to catch the look and feel of the novel. He puts us right behind Katniss (katnip) Everdean (played by Jennifer Lawrence who brought Katniss to living breating life) from the very beginning of the film and keeps us there until the film’s dangling ending.

And before I go any further, a quick word about csting, it – was – perfect. Elizabeth Banks as Effie, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. But the winners in the above and beyond category for simply sublime casting has to go to Donald Sutherland as the scary President Snow and to Josh Hutcherson as the lovelorn Peeta with honourable mention to the genius who talked Lenny Kravitz into appearing as Cinna in the film.

Honourable mention: Lenny Kravitz as Cinna.

As with many adaptations from favourite novels there were some things changed or added, but, they did not ruin the film in the least. The one added thing was the chance for readers of the books to see how the orchestrations of the ‘games’ were performed. A hugely modern television control system combined with CGI effects that could kill and you had the reality tv show from hell.

Of course in the books where we see everything from Katniss’s point of view, we don’t get to see the mechanizations behind the arena and it’s killing fields. We, like Katnip, can only wonder where the cameras are located and just how much the audience can see. With the film we can see it all. It really helps sell the film and it’s feel of a dystopia dictatorship that yearly punishes it’s unwilling denizens.

Like the book, this film has been aimed at the ‘young adult’ market and this is most obvious in the scenes of battle which are almost curiously bloodless. But the scene at the very beginning of the games where the ‘tributes’ arm themselves from weapons stored in the cornucopia, the lack of blood does not detract from the horror of what these children face as this is where half of them will die.

Do yourself a favour and get this film on blu-ray. If ever a film deserved to be viewed in high definition its The Hunger Games.