You’ve probably read the books or seen the movies Hunger Games. But did you know there had been a very similar novel by Koushun Takami published in Japan back in 1999 called Battle Royale? It has also been adapted on-screen a year later, and I would like to talk about it in this article.
The story takes place in Japan of the future. Teenagers have had a rebellious behavior and turned against authority. In order to keep the power over them, the government, with the help of school leadership, have decided to take measures. Each year, they would send a whole random high school class on a desert island with weapons and a minimal survival kit. The students would have to battle to death until one survives. Only the winner would be able to return back home. Grown-ups have decided to keep the control over the youth with fear.
I really recommend the movie, as it has a deep social background. A Japanese friend of mine told me about it when I told him I wanted to watch it. He was about 15 when the book came out – the same age as the students in the story. Japanese society is really complex and a lot different compared to the western culture, especially when it comes to education. I am no expert in sociology or whatsoever but I would like to explain the social aspects as my friend told me.
Since World War II, the Japanese have had a general feeling of guilt and collective consciousness. This has had a heavy impact on the organization of education.
The will of putting back on feet the nation was really strong. In order to do that, authorities created a strict school system, with a very little place for creativity and students’ liberty. Teachers would force pupils to learn and learn and learn again. However, a child has his limits. In the early 90s, high school students started to become mad and some began to act uncontrollably insane. At around the same time the novel came out, a shocking event happened that shook the whole country. A high school student had murdered one of his classmates without any apparent reason, beheaded her, and put the head on the school main gate during the night, so that everyone could see it on the next morning. It was a sudden realization. This system was not adapted. Koushun Takami’s novel appeared then as a perspective of the future if nothing was immediately changed.