‘Squid Game’: Did the Netflix K-Drama Plagiarize a Japanese Movie?

Squid Game is a worthwhile Netflix Korean drama if you can withstand the inhumanity of how the players win the cash prize. Directed and created by Hwang Dong-Hyuk, the survival K-drama has developed a round of applause from critics and fans. The story follows Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-Jae) and 455 players who participate in a survival game using childhood games with a dark twist to win a cash prize. As the K-drama has gained popularity, fans have noticed its storyline has many starking similarities to a Japanese movie, As the Gods Will. There is no denying the comparison between the K-drama and movie, but was it intentional or just coincidence?

Netflix 'Squid Game' poster with players in green track suits in front of giant robotic doll
Netflix ‘Squid Game’ poster with main characters | via Netflix

456 players in debt join a bloody game to win a million-dollar cash prize

Gi-Hun has no money, thousands in debt, and is a disappointment to his family. At the train station, he is approached by a man who offers him an opportunity. If Gi-Hun can win a popular Korean children’s game, he receives a cash prize. After winning, Gi-Hun is given a card with a phone number. It is his chance at redemption but at a cost. He and 455 participants participate in the Games that turn childhood classics into a deadly fight for survival. Along the way, Gi-Hun becomes friends with an older man, new team members and remeets an old school friend.

There is a trick to the game. With every player’s death, the cash prize grows, and there can only be one winner. The Games are controlled by a masked Front Man and its workers. As the Games go on, a young police officer looks for his lost brother he thinks is connected to the Games. At the root of the K-drama’s story is a brutal truth about money, greed, what people are willing to do for it, and how people can still be moral even in the worst circumstances.

‘Squid Game’ has similar plot elements to a Japanese movie

RELATED: ‘Yumi’s Cells’: Did the K-Drama Meet Fans Expectations Compared to the Webtoon?

As Netflix’s Squid Game has become a top 10 on the streaming platform, fans noticed shocking similarities between the K-drama and a Japanese movie. According to Yahoo News, fans noticed scenes from the K-drama mimic those from As the Gods Will. The 2014 supernatural horror movie is about a high school student who loves playing video games. The student becomes bored with his ordinary life. He finds himself taking part in Daruma-san ga koronda (Japanese children’s game) with deadly consequences. Each level of the game causes more death, and the student’s only solution is to survive as no one knows their creator.

Fans on social media posted the K-drama and movie use the same games and details. The Japanese movie and K-drama both utilize the game ‘Red Light, Green Light.’ What fans found interesting was that the K-drama also uses a robot doll. The robot turns around to face a tree when she says “green light.” The only slight difference is that the Japanese movie has the failed players’ heads explode instead of being shot like in the K-drama. The similarities are hard to look past, but director Hwang has an answer for fans.

Director Hwang Dong-Hyuk planned ‘Squid Game’ for 10 years

RELATED: ‘D.P.’: Jung Hae-in Explains Realism of K-Drama: ‘The Drama Is Not a Lighthearted One’

The highly acclaimed Netflix K-drama took a while for director Hwang to create. According to the director, Squid Game has been in the works for 10 years since 2008. After debuting his war drama, My Father, in 2007, Hwang became fascinated with survival games from his favorite comics. In an interview for the Korean Herald, Hwang explains why it took so long to start the K-drama. “Casting actors and getting investment were extremely difficult during these periods. The idea of a game-winner who strikes it rich was unwelcomed. The brutality and cruelty of the games were of concern. I had to put the scenario on the shelf,” said Hwang.

Hwang titled it “Squid Game,” believing the childhood game was a perfect metaphor for our highly competitive society. Seeing as Hwang developed the storyline and its elements in 2008, how does it plagiarize a movie from 2014? At a press conference for Squid Game, Hwang addressed the issue.

“It is true that [the first game is] similar, but after that, there aren’t any similarities,” he said. “I worked on [Squid Game in] 2008 and 2009, and at the time, the first game [had already been] fixed as ‘Red Light Green Light,’” said Hwang. The director does not necessarily want to claim ownership of the story but expressed if he had to, “I would say I did it first.”