GANTZ (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 130 minutes
At an underground train station, university student Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) and old friend Masaru Kato (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) lose a head on collision with the oncoming train when they rescue a drunkard who had fallen onto the tracks. They awaken in a bare room save for a giant black sphere and a few equally mystified onlookers, and quickly learn that they are dead.
The black sphere suddenly opens to reveal a strange naked figure curled up inside named “Gantz”, communicating only via a digital display on the outer shell of the globe. Gantz equips everyone with power suits and laser weapons to play a game of survival with high stakes prizes: eliminate the aliens operating in secret back on earth and earn points. Reach one hundred points and get your life back; die during the mission and you die for good.
History has shown that live action adaptations of comic books or cartoons either work or they don’t. In Hollywood, for every Superman – The Movie, Spider-Man or The Dark Knight there are a dozen Fantastic Four or Daredevil flops. Japan is not immune to this scenario with a wealth of manga and anime titles having been brought to life on the big screen with varying degrees of success. But with a greater pool of source material to choose from, it is easier for many of the failures to slip under the radar.
Hiroya Oku’s violent, sexually explicit, occasionally profound and still ongoing manga received the anime treatment in the celebrated twenty six episode 2004 series. This film version, from director Shinsuke Sato, not only has a lot to live up to but the huge handicap of having just over four hours spread across two films to recreate this magic – the result of such limitations becoming quickly evident.
Whilst not short on action, character development is not given the same opportunity for depth of exploration as this film’s predecessors – at least not in this first instalment; many seeds are planted during this first film which one can only hope are allowed to reach fruition in the upcoming follow up film Gantz: Perfect Answer.
Anyone familiar with the previous incarnations will notice the many omissions and liberties taken with the story, resulting in the slightly clumsy manner in which some of the subplots have been shoehorned into this production; new comers to the franchise won’t be any the wiser but the resultant anaemic drama is likely to underwhelm the established viewer.
With the focus predominantly on Kato, Kurono and buxom suicide victim Kei Kishimoto (Natsuna) (what’s with all these K’s?) much of the supporting cast may as well be invisible; in fact some characters literally appear on screen simply to make the numbers up before being killed off, with no time to make even the slightest impression.
Since much of the original tale revolved around how reaction of the individuals to the game and their interaction with each other on a mission – whether they chose to help one another or fight alone – the absences of such tensions here dilutes any profound impact the story may have had before.
This also applies to the three key players whose struggles back in the real world are intrinsic to explaining their personalities. When Kurono is not suffering from sexual hang ups around Kishimoto, he is being pursued by shy classmate Tae Kojima (Yuriko Yoshitaka), while Kato is trying to get his head around his cross dimensional existence at the same time trying to rear his younger brother. It’s a shame these scenarios are not more deeply developed as they all go towards shaping the characters and motivations of the lead protagonists.
However the cast do as much as they can with the clunky script. Ken’ichi Matsuyama appears to be the “go to” guy for live action adaptations these days, with big screen versions of Nana, Death Note, Detroit Rock City and Norwegian Wood to his credit, adding current Japanese box office hit Usagi Drop to that list.
Kazunari Ninomiya of the immensely successful J-Pop boy band Arashi does his best with the one facial expression he sports for the majority of the movie until unleashing an emotional monologue at the end which adds anew dimension to his essaying of Kurono. And casting Natsuna as the voluptuous Kishimoto was inspired since she is the spitting image of her manga character and no doubt will win a legion of male fans following this role.
Visually the film replicates the familiar aesthetics, props, costumes and set pieces of the original designs with commendable accuracy. The make-up for the onion headed alien in the first mission is disturbingly good while the robot in mission two and the giant Buddha statues in the third are equally convincing. The special effects, which look great on BluRay are superb, easily on a par with many Hollywood productions.
The violence featured in the manga and anime may have been toned down for this project but there is still plenty enough visceral action in the high intensity fight scenes and much bloodletting to appease the gore fans watching. Only the nudity (aside from Kishimoto’s discreetly shot naked entrance) and sexual content is completely absent here.
What the film lacks is a vital cohesiveness in the drama department, due in part to the paucity of time allotted for the character and story development. Less discerning viewers will revel in the high thrills action during the three missions, but the lack of deeper exploration into the philosophical and existential question the premise is crying out for leaves a huge gap where the soul of the movie should be. It’s certainly not a bad adaptation by any means and for the most part delivers a solid and visually stunning slice of sci-fi/action entertainment.
It is unquestionably GANTZ in spirit and contains enough recognisable elements of the original material to placate even the most die hard fans, even if it doesn’t fully satiate their expectations. With the aforementioned sequel to follow soon perhaps Sato’s vision for his treatment of this story will become clearer.
Teasers and Trailers
Rating – *** ½
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