Review for Gantz
When the live action movie of Gantz was announced a few years back, I got more than a little excited… for about twenty-four hours. Gantz is an ultra-violent, sci-fi manga from Hiroya Oku, which I managed to sample a volume of a while back It's an intense, fast paced sci-fi action thriller with a cast of morally questionable anti-heroes, a wicked sadistic premise that makes the Saw movies look like The Wizard of Oz, and with lashings of social comment to boot. It also has enough sex for it to remain sealed away in cellophane on bookshop shelves, to prevent it from being pre-viewed.
I first encountered Gantz in the form of the anime adaptation from Studio Gonzo, still available in the UK in boxset form from MVM. It is my favourite annoying anime. While extreme violence is pretty much a given, even in broadcast anime, sex is less so, and Gantz had to be toned down even for the late night slots. The DVD had some of that extremeness restored, but it was still far less than the manga had offered. But the reprehensible characters, the social comment, the sci-fi premise of extreme torment and exploitation was still there. What made Gantz the anime so annoying was that it took all these brilliant ideas and elements, and wasted them all with leaden pacing and horrifically overwritten dialogue. On top of that, as the manga was still incomplete, the anime creators had to fashion an ending of their own for the second half of the series. But, I still love to watch the show, despite the ten-minute long death scenes.
The question is, how do you translate all of this, the social comment, the extreme content, the offensive characters, the sex and the violence to a live action feature film, or as in this case, two live action feature films? The answer is that you don't. You instead make a general audience friendly summer blockbuster, with the sort of effects budget that wouldn't be out of place on a Hollywood production. Gantz without the anime pacing and wretched dialogue may be just what the adaptation needs, but will it still be Gantz without the social comment, the anti-heroes, or the sex?
It was just another normal day, as college student Kei Kurono stood on the underground platform, preparing for a job interview. But then his childhood friend Masaru Kato walked past, and then decided to help a drunk who had fallen onto the tracks. Feeling obligated to help, Kei went to assist Kato, but got pulled onto the tracks just as the express train arrived. They suddenly appeared in a strange apartment, empty save for a large, enigmatic black ball, and a host of similarly confused people. Suddenly the ball sparks into life, with a rousing if distorted anthem. Characters and images appear on its surface, telling the occupants of the room that their old lives are over, that their new lives are its to do with as it wills. It then shows them an image of a comical looking alien, and tells them to find it and kill it. The ball suddenly opens up, revealing cases containing close fitting, black shiny latex looking suits with odd circular attachments, and racks of futuristic looking weapons. There is also a naked comatose man crouched inside, on a ventilator and somehow hooked into the machinery. The next thing they know, they are outside and the hunt is underway. The ball is Gantz, and their lives, should they survive the next 20 minutes, will never be theirs again, unless they can somehow score 100 points in Gantz' sick, twisted game.
Gantz gets a 1080p 1.85:1 widescreen transfer on this Blu-ray disc, which has come to Manga having visited Madman Entertainment in Australia first. While the Blu-ray format does offer the film added clarity and definition, this isn't the finest Blu-ray I have ever seen. Much of that is probably down to the typical film-stock used in Japan, which tends to offer flatter colours, a higher level of grain, and washed out dark detail, all of which is apparent on this disc. You won't find that trademark 3D pop that everyone looks for on Blu-ray, but on the whole Gantz is a pleasant enough watch. What's worth mentioning is the quality of the special effects, usually what lets Japanese mainstream cinema down. Here the effects are as good as anything that Hollywood can come up with, the Gantz teleport effect is stunning, while the various aliens are brought to life with vivid clarity and realism, with only the Japanese sense of humour in the CG designs marking them out as quirky and unexpected.
While the visuals may not be the mega sharp and super-clear Blu-ray acme that we are used to, there's no worry about the audio, a thunderous DTS-HD MA 5.1 Japanese track that kicks ass. No seriously, the action sequences in this film are so powerfully represented, so well designed and realised that you may find the audio jolting your posterior off your couch at certain moments in this film. Certainly you will be nudging your volume control downwards if you have any respect for your neighbours. The dialogue is clear throughout, while the music drives the pace of the film, without being particularly memorable. There is also a PCM 2.0 Japanese track if you're still not HD audio capable, while the sole subtitle track is timed well and free of error.
I mentioned the detour to Madman Entertainment, as the US release from Warner Home Video actually has a DTS-HD MA 5.1 English dub, but by all accounts it isn't one of the good ones, not that there are many good dubs for live action.
We also get more in the way of extra features compared to our US cousins, which makes a change. The disc is presented with an animated menu with lots of spoilers… I mean scenes from the film.
The Making Of Gantz lasts 18 minutes and offers plenty of b-roll footage from the film, with the odd bit of candid input from the actors on set.
More interesting are the Interviews, 28 minutes worth with the actors in the film, including stars Kenichi Matsuyama, Natsuna and Kazunari Ninomiya, as well as the director Shinsuke Sato. Note that there are spoilers in the interviews for the second film.
You'll also find the teasers and trailers for the film, as well as the TV spots, 8 previews in total. All of the extra features are presented in SD format.
Gantz is a whole lot of fun. It's two hours plus of action and excitement, a great concept movie brought to life with top-notch effects, well-crafted action sequences, and a cast of likeable characters. Yet I can't help but compare this to the anime, and in many ways this film is a disappointment. As mentioned, the social comment has been ditched to concentrate the film on its action and to maintain the pace. That's understandable, but the anime series was also something of a character study, putting people in an extreme life or death situation, and seeing how they would react. The movie version of Gantz tones down its main characters to a frightening degree, while the supporting cast may as well be invisible. These are pretty much generic everyman characters told by a giant black ball to go and fight aliens, and fight aliens they do. In terms of a summer blockbuster, a sci-fi action movie with just hint of gore and excess violence, Gantz comfortably hits all the right notes, its pace is spot on, and the story never slows down long enough for you to start picking holes in the plot, or worrying about the blandness of the characters, or the vagueness of some of the performances. If you've never read a volume of Gantz, never seen the anime, then this film will entertain without fail. It's just that if you have those points of comparison, you may end up picking nits through the 130-minute runtime instead of enjoying the film.
Most of the changes for pace are positive. We get straight into the story on the railway tracks; the Gantz 'missions' are mercifully short and sweet. Of course this has been done primarily by cutting out all the standing around talking filler, but also by making the actual action more intense and better choreographed. These missions take a matter of minutes, where the ones in the anime lasted hours. The Onion alien mission is unchanged in the fundamentals, although how it plays out is different, with Kei's initial involvement more passive, while it's Kishimoto this time that figures out the use of the Gantz suits. Most likely this was done to avoid her being naked for the duration and risking the rating. The Suzuki alien is now the Tanaka alien, and is reduced to a single, comical robot, rather than the army of bird alien robots in the anime, but again that action sequence plays out in the same way in terms of the narrative. It's the third and final sequence, the Ill-Tempered Alien sequence that plays out closest to that in the anime in terms of action set pieces and number of foes, but then again it is the climax of the film, it needs to be big. In terms of content, this is where the film and the anime coincide closest to the manga. After this point, the anime diverged, and it looks as if the live action movie sequel Gantz: Perfect Answer does so as well.
It's what the movie does to the characters that irks me the most, although it probably won't mean a thing to newcomers to the franchise. It isn't such a big deal that the ages of the protagonists has been upped to college age, rather than the high school students of the anime and manga, but the whole arc of Kei Kurono's journey has been altered. I'm used to an utter slimeball of an anti-hero. Kei in the anime was self-obsessed, sex-obsessed, with an assumed superiority complex that stood at odds with his moral cowardice. He was a scumbag basically, who having been thrown into this warped game, had to find an inner strength and leadership qualities. In Gantz, the movie, Kei is the average Joe, a basic timid good guy, who while interested in the opposite sex, would never have the chutzpah to act on that interest. He does transform over the course of the film, but the one downside of paring down the story, shortening the action sequences is that his transformation from timid college student, to unexpected hero, to overconfident arrogant asshat, to leader, is accomplished by the flicking of a switch. It's never believable.
Kei Kishimoto's arrival into the Gantz universe is identical to that of the anime, albeit with the cameras more discretely angled, and her modesty is far more quickly preserved by Kato's coat. Kurono certainly doesn't try and grab a quick feel while she's unconscious, the sole Yakuza in the room never gets beyond considering it, and thankfully for the BBFC, there's no over amorous dog in this version. Her back-story is altered a little, and it seems that one of the more interesting developments in the anime is never explored here. She's also much less of a manipulative bitch in this version. While she quickly develops an affection for Kato, she never really leads Kurono on, although this version of Kurono doesn't spend nearly as much time thinking about her naked.
It's Kato who is actually a little more interesting in this version. He is still the same idealistic delinquent, the one who believes that everyone can be saved, the one who stands up for what is right no matter what the odds, and the one who has a young brother at home that he alone can take care of. But his back-story is different in this film, with a darker incident in his past that explains his personality much better than the anime did. In terms of notable characters, there is really only Nishi left, and he is perhaps the worst alteration in the film. In the anime he was an evil, manipulative scheming little toerag, who happily and ruthlessly used others as alien fodder while he totted up his points, lecturing and pontificating all the way. He got his comeuppance in the anime with one of those 10-minute death scenes that I mentioned. This is all toned down to the bare minimum in the movie, his slimy brand of evil never really comes across, and the actor playing him is more whiny than conniving.
There are some interesting differences in the film, most notably the addition of a potential love interest for Kei Kurono, and the explicit statement straight up that scoring 100 points in the game allows not only escape, but also the resurrection of a dead, prior player. But the really big changes happen during and after the end credits, one wholly unexpected revelation, and the preview for Gantz: Perfect Answer. It looks as if the film, just like the anime, diverges in a completely different direction at this point. It also looks as if the film, unlike the anime, and I believe unlike the manga, explores the mystery of Gantz itself to a far greater degree. That, and the promise of some more excellent action sequences, has me more juiced up for the sequel than I ever was for this first movie.
If you've never encountered Gantz before, then this film will be very enjoyable, with solid summer blockbuster production values, fast-paced, entertaining action sequences, and a sci-fi mystery that will provoke no little thought. If you have seen the anime, or read the manga though, you may want to hit yourself on the head until you develop a selective amnesia. Wasting your energy comparing the film to the prior incarnations does it a disservice.