When I first started reading Hiroya Oku's hugely popular adult science-fiction manga: Gantz, I couldn't help but see the massive potential its serial "teenagers hunting alien interlopers" format had for adaptation into a big-budget action TV series, considering it's basically Battle Royale-meets-Men in Black-meets-The Matrix with extra gore and nudity thrown in just for the hell of it. The major problem, one immediately realises a couple of volumes into the story, is that to do Oku's plotline justice, you'd need a budget that would make a Michael Bay film seem bargain-basement. Well, in Japan they decided to turn it into a film "duology" on a $45million budget, which in fairness is a lot of money by their industry's standards. But is it enough? And can you really convert a long-running, episodic plotline into a standalone story lasting two films?
Gantz follows the lives - or rather afterlives - of two young men: Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato, two former classmates reunited one evening at the business end of an express subway train, where instead of being splattered into a million parts, they wake up inside a bland Tokyo apartment room with a bunch of similarly confused newly-deads. The room contains a large black sphere known as Gantz, which produces hi-tech combat suits and weaponry and orders the group to hunt down and kill an "alien" of its choosing, before teleporting them out into the streets of Tokyo. Those that take up the challenge discover this is just the first night in a cycle of "events" that teleport them back to the room to meet the challenge laid down by Gantz, and soon Kei and Kato emerge as the leaders of the group, who must survive enough battles to figure out how to escape this bizarre purgatory.
Is the budget enough? Well I've got to say rather hesitantly - for this first entry at least - that it is! Gantz: The Movie covers the first three alien hunts from the manga to a reasonable degree of accuracy: they've been massively downscaled in certain aspects; but the general pacing, absurd violence, and sense of confusion that confronts the combatants is accurately conveyed by Director Shinsuke Sato, while the talented people over at Digital Frontier (who worked on the Death Note movies and Summer Wars) have ensured that the CG aliens are remarkably believable. It's a shame that only a fraction of those aliens have made the transition from page to screen, but you can't expect everything. Action-wise Gantz is intriguing and showy enough to hold your attention, chiefly because the format and design is straight from the pages of the comic. In truth, Sato's direction isn't very kinetic and lead actors Kazunari Ninomiya and Kenichi Matsuyama are not natural action heroes, so compared to the likes of The Matrix - or even Battle Royale for that matter - it all seems a little bit sterile. Intriguing, darkly ironic in places even, but sterile and devoid of the sense of maddening escalation of events that comes in the original source.
If you're a fan of the manga, that's the good news! The bad news is that just about every other element of Gantz: The Movie is a complete flop, in fact I'd go so far as to suggest that it's every bit as pointless, shallow, and cynical an adaptation as anything Hollywood could churn out! Would these films have been made had the Death Note movies not grossed almost $100million for Nippon Television and Warner Bros back in 2006? Probably not, and certainly not in the two-film format we see here! Someone basically wanted to take the Gantz name and the funky black rubber suits, and the mysterious setting of a featureless black ball commanding a series of alien murder hunts, and throw every other element of Hiroya Oku's work in the bin so they can work on a new, completely unrelated plotline.
So what has changed? About 90% of the characters have been dropped for a start! Of the handful of characters that remain, about 90% of their characterisation is completely different: Most detrimentally being the leading role of Kei Kurono who is now a very bland university student instead of the hopelessly self-involved idiot of the comics who is gradually chiselled by extreme circumstance into an altruistic hero. Kurono now has almost no character arc, he's essentially the same guy from the first scene to the last, whereas in the comics he's by far the most complex and well-rounded role the story has to offer. The only character with any kind of depth in Sato's film(s) is Masaru Kato, who remains a compulsive do-gooder raising his younger brother by himself, but now he's burdened with the groan-worthy Jdorama (Japanese TV melodrama) device of having murdered his abusive father. The love interests Kishimoto and Kojima are also empty stereotypes, with the former in particular serving no purpose other than to have one or two romantic "moments" that can be edited into the trailers to sell the film to women.
The narrative is discombobulated beyond all recognition - or in the case of this first film - not there at all. Nothing about the origin or motive of Gantz is revealed in either film, the story in this first entry serves only to establish a very basic setting despite a runtime of over two hours - although I can't decide if this is a blessing or a curse, because the fast-paced plotline of the second film really makes no sense at all! Don't get me wrong, the manga isn't exactly War & Peace of the seinen (adult) format: it's primary focus is on tits and violent action, keeping the overarching plotline light and mysterious, but (as I mentioned earlier) Hiroya Oku does have a knack for escalating events into grander schemes with twists and turns based around a three-arc structure that completely reinvent the series and make it an addictive page-turner. In fact, probably the only way you could have any chance of adapting Gantz successfully would be as a trilogy of films, but hey; if you can't do that, then why not just concentrate on the tits and gore and at least be faithful to the tone of comics? Or how about the comedy? Where's all the dark humour? Kurono's puerile obsession with sex? The whacky ticks and traits of the aliens? Only a faint trace of these elements have seeped through into this insipid opening film.
Sato and script writer Yûsuke Watanabe have obviously decided to focus on adapting Gantz into a rather moody Action-Mystery-Thriller (again, probably easier to market the film that way), but in that case why have they disregarded most of the contextualisation? You don't create an effective mystery by revealing nothing, you create mystery through the implications of what you reveal. The comics reveal a more intricate and fleshed-out universe in the first alien hunt than both films in their entirety! You're given strict confirmation that the characters are genuinely dead, how Gantz resurrected them (which also ties in to why Gantz doesn't just teleport living people), you learn what the consequence is if first time players ignore the alien hunt and try to go home, and also what would happen if surviving contestants were to reveal their knowledge of Gantz and the aliens to anyone. Almost none of this is convincingly portrayed in the films, Gantz acts more like a spiritual monolith than a technological instrument and the characters just naturally accept that they'd be "killed" by Gantz if they were to break the rules (despite no such rules being given to them by Gantz itself) based primarily on the word of the veteran player: Nishi (portrayed with some laughably bad over-acting by Kanata Hongô).
Another good example of how these films are full of narrative dead ends is the Gantz timer: One of the major themes and source of tension in the original source is the feeling that Gantz is always counting down to some sort of event, firstly with each alien hunt having a set time that presumably promises a penalty should it be used up. In the films Sato also emphasises this countdown, with frequent shots of the timer obviously being used to create the same tension, only in the films if the counter reaches zero while they are still fighting, nothing ever happens! It's ultimately a very cheap thriller device and nothing more.
Maybe this film is destined to be appreciated most by those who have never, and will never, read the comics; in which case I would hesitantly recommend it as the action set pieces alone just about make it worthwhile. If you are a fan of the comics though I would suggest you lower your expectations to rock-bottom beforehand, then maybe you can gleam some fun from this rather po-faced film. I lowered mine, but obviously not nearly enough!
PresentationPresented in the original 1.85:1 ratio, Gantz has a rather dull colour scheme that is dominated by earthen hues (mostly grey) and the greenish-blue hues that come from the use of fluorescent lighting, which are all handled precisely by this very natural-looking 1080p presentation. Gantz may have been produced on a Hollywood budget but it still has understated Japanese production values, so the HD image doesn't quite exhibit the same level of sharpness as a contemporary Hollywood film, but I was more than pleased by the level of detail shown here: with no clear signs of EE or noise reduction in play and only a moderate layer of grain that becomes more pronounced on frequently throughout (lots of night time sequences mean more the visible grain). Contrast and brightness levels are fine, blacks have a tendency to be a little deep though, so shadow detail isn't great. Sadly the AVC compression is pretty poor; it averages a reasonably low 20Mb/s but I've seen lower bitrates yield better results than this, with the grain being rendered poorly in places by clumps of compression noise and banding being pretty much omnipresent and definitely noticeable throughout the night-time alien hunts.
The primary choice of audio is a rock-solid Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that delivers a forceful sonic presentation during the lengthy action set-pieces and a restrained an accurate sound once the histrionics end. Bass is deep and strong, treble smooth and dialogue is crisp and audible throughout. Dynamics are rich and the entire sound field is expressively implemented: job done! If you don't have a 5.1 or HD set up then you might be pleased to hear that for once the LPCM Stereo option is, if anything, actually louder than its multi-channel counterpart, but sadly this comes with some noticeable distortion in the louder elements of the sound (angry shouts tend to screech and tear), otherwise this it's a solid presentation. It might be worth noting that an English dub was produced for Gantz's Western theatrical run but it has not been included on this release, which from what I've read is no great loss. Optional English subtitles are included.
ExtrasExtra features are underwhelming, but better than nothing I guess . All extras come with removable English subtitles:
The Making of Gantz (18m:00s, 576i MPEG, Japanese LPCM 2.0)
A sort of minimalistic "video diary" of the production that could be used to cure insomnia. There's no narration involved, just brief video camera footage of a number of the film's scenes being filmed with one or two "exciting" moments when a cast member happens to turn and address the camera. If the footage is anything to go by then the Gantz production was extremely calm with relatively little communication needed between crew & cast.
Interviews (28m:08s, 576i MPEG, Japanese LPCM 2.0)
Rather than offering separately playable cast & director interviews, we're introduced to the main cast and director in one boring big chunk of atypically formal Japanese conversation. The order of the interviews is: Kazunari Ninomiya, Kenichi Matsuyama, Yuriko Yoshitaka, Kanata Hongô, Natsuna, and Shinsuke Sato, all of which answer mostly the same questions asking for impressions on their co-stars, individual roles, and the film's production. Note that, contrary to what he exhibits in the film, Kanata Hongô is capable of closing his mouth when he finishes a sentence!
Teasers & Trailers (04m:50s, 576i MPEG, Japanese LPCM 2.0)
Self explanatory, sadly these are presented in standard-definition.
TV Spots (00m:53s, 576i MPEG, Japanese LPCM 2.0)
Again, in standard-def only.