There is a saying that if death doesn't solve all my problems then I am really in trouble. In Gantz, that trouble comes in bizarre aliens and buckets of blood.
What They Say
College student Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) witnesses his childhood friend Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) attempting to help a drunk who has fallen onto the subway train tracks and jumps in to help him. However, both are run down by an oncoming train and are transported to an apartment. In the center of the living room is an enigmatic black orb known as 'GANTZ'. GANTZ forces each of them to take part in a mission to hunt down and kill aliens, providing them with equipment and weaponry. Is this world, which tests their will to survive, a game or reality?
At this point I am somewhat of a NCM Fathom veteran. This is at least the seventh such showing I have attended and in the past they have been a mixed bag on the technical side. I had previously attended events at two different theaters but this one required more of a drive and I went in with lowered expectations due to those experiences. What I got was a very nice surprise on the video side as the presentation was nice and clear without the haziness some other events I attended included. The images had a nice sharpness to them and I spent time drooling over the thought that if the theater version looked like this a (hoped for) Blu-ray release should be stunning. The audio was decent as well with effects carrying the appropriate weight and Kenji Kawai's score drifting in between subtle and vibrantly underscoring the action taking place on the screen as needed.
The other part of the audio is the dialogue which in this case was English dubbed. For the most part the dub was ok though at times and the majority of the cast-especially the main actors-fit the roles nicely. There were a few points where the dialogue felt awkward but that seemed to mostly be a compromise between dialogue and lip flap. Some of the supporting roles didn't fit as well. Some of the voices seemed to be done in such a way an actor could do two roles without being noticed but in some cases it hurt the final product. When the theater laughs because someone dead pan delivers 'ouch' in a scene where it shouldn't be that is not a good sign. Also the person who played Kei's college classmate who has a crush on him seemed to be new to voice acting-at least for live action-as her character just seemed to have problems vocally fitting in to events around her. Plus hearing her mispronounce 'manga' when she is supposed to be drawing one didn't win the performance any favors. Clearly it was either missed or ignored by the director as Kei's voice actor did pronounce it correctly.
Content: (Please note the review may contain spoilers)
Originally created by Hiroya Oku in 2000 Gantz has taken Japan and other parts of the world by storm. At present count the 29 manga volumes have sold over 13.5 million copies worldwide and it has been licensed for a number of countries including the US by Dark Horse comics. The manga inspired a 13 episode anime series and a second 13 episode series that followed that as well as a novel, a Playstation 2 game and now a pair of live action movies. Sometimes live action adaptations work and sometimes they fall short-will this attempt be one of the later or will Gantz be awarding points for a successful mission?
Fans of the franchise will recognize the opening though a subtle book placement will show that the protagonists for this film are a bit older than the high school age that the manga and anime have them as. The film starts as Kei Kurono is waiting on a subway platform for a train to arrive. A commotion starts as a drunken man has collapsed onto the rails. While Kei plays watches as a figure darts through the crowd and onto the rails to get the man. Kei is shocked to discover that the figure is Masaru Kato who is an old childhood friend Kei hasn't seen in many years. As Masaru finally has gotten the man off the tracks and is struggling to get up Kei is finally persuaded through guilt to try to help him-though the effort fails as Kei is dragged onto the tracks just as the express train comes barreling through the station. The two have a moment where the lights of the train reflect brightly on their face, and then'
The two men wake to find themselves in a white room with empty white bookcases, a very large overhead light panel and a small collection of other people in the room and a large black seamless sphere sitting almost impossibly on the floor on one side of the room. From the view they determine they are not too far from Tokyo Tower and the arrival of a young and naked woman (Kei Kishimoto) gives the story a chance to show Kei's inaction while Masaru jumps forward to give her his coat and stare down an intimidating Yakuza member who has his eye on her.
Finally some action is seem from the ball as it plays a morning radio wake up song (oddly enough not dubbed though there are subtitles for it) and they discover the ball has plans for their new lives. The people in the room are provided a suitcase with an odd suit in it and weapons as the ball reveals three sliding out drawers. The people in the room look inside and see a man at the center of the ball who is alive and breathing but unresponsive to any stimuli in the room. As the members look in disbelief at the weapons and suits provided they are given a mission-kill what the ball claims is an alien whose picture is shown on its surface.
The desire to not believe what is going on around them as a member of the group claims that this is really a game show and by getting the alien they will be awarded $100,000. A few of the people find this offer irresistible and make off after the alien while others-including Kei, Masaru and Kishimoto are caught up less in avarice than confusion as to what is going on. Reality hits hard though as the small alien that was being chased is exterminated only for a much larger and vengeful alien of the same species to appear. Kei enters into the fight reluctantly and when given the chance to pull the trigger he blanches as he has not made the moral leap into Gantz world yet.
As the film progresses little else about Gantz (other than that it is the name of the ball) will be revealed other than that by fighting aliens Gantz will award points by its whim. When asked Gantz displays that at 100 points the person can choose either to have their memory erased and get their life back free of Gantz call or bring someone who had died in Gantz service back. The morality will play out as Kei and Masaru struggle to come to terms with their new life as well as the responsibilities of their old. Masaru is the only person around to take care of his younger brother and he worries about him while Kei tries out the suit Gantz gave them to discover it greatly enhances his physical abilities to the point he thinks of becoming a superhero. How will each member face the aliens they are forced to confront and what happens when the biggest challenge may be to face who they really are as people'and what happens if the person they think they able to mold themselves into shatters and proves that even in death life is more precious and fragile then they acknowledge?
Gantz is a fast paced, slickly designed film with spectacular effects. The attention to detail with the costumes, aliens and even the transport beam effect is rather stunning. While a few of the aliens do occasionally look a little stop motion at times the various materials they are supposed to be made of helps with the suspension of disbelief. While a few points look a bit off due to this the majority of the film feels very organic for the creatures as well as the characters when they are operating in their de facto super suits. There is plenty of action and the story doesn't spend time getting bogged down in any given area. This is both a plus and a bit of a minus as one of the strengths of Gantz in its other forms is watching the moral play as these people each with their own make up are thrust into a horrible an otherworldly situation where the ethics they have developed in their day-to-day life likely will just lead them to a second and more permanent demise. This trimming aspect has an effect on character development as by the end it seems the only characters the audience really gets a feel for are Masaru and Kei though it doesn't give time for the characters to wallow forever in those traits so that is also a positive. Now the wait for the second and concluding film in the series begins.
While the moral aspects get stunted and character development is a bit on the lacking side the films pace, effects and remaining character development combine to make a very entertaining film that should please non-Gantz fans as well existing fans that are willing to look at the feature as an alternate take on the franchise.
An added bonus for US goers is that this film was screened in the country before its full release date to Japanese theaters on January 29 and same day as the Tokyo premier. For this event Fathom and New People held a special event at the Mann's Chinese 6 theater in Hollywood hosted by Patrick Macias of Otaku USA. The special guest for the evening were Kenichi Matsuyama (Masaru) and Kazunari Ninomiya (Kei) who were appearing live to plug the movie and answer some fan submitted questions post the film. The actors were flow to the US after having attended the Tokyo premiere for the film also on Thursday January 20 and interacted with the host through the use of a pair of interpreters. This was a nice extra that if previous events are an indicator may sadly not turn up on the home video release.