I knew next-to-nothing about Gantz, the popular manga series from Hiroya Oku, before watching the feature film adaptation on DVD this week from New People Entertainment. I wish I did. Shinsuke Sato’s live-action film adaptation may or may not be faithful to the series – I honestly have no idea – but it’s an exciting production full of unexpected characters, thoroughly impressive action sequences and engaging plotting. Gantz thoroughly kicked my ass. You should watch it.
The story, as much as I can explain without ruining the movie (and if you’re already a fan of the manga or anime series you can pretty much skip this paragraph), follows a group of individuals who die and wake up in an empty room. Empty, that is, except for an enormous black sphere. After an understandable bout of freaking out, they watch in confusion as the sphere opens, revealing unfamiliar weapons, black bio-enhancement suits and… Well, that would be telling. They’re informed that they have twenty minutes to find and “get” a strange-looking individual with an obsession for onions. They’re teleported to an all-new, all-different location in Japan, just down the street from their quarry, and then everything gets totally badass. Revealing anything more would just be insensitive, if not outright cruel.
Although elements of Gantz feel familiar, from the over-the-top superhuman battles to the Running Man-meets-Cube initial conceit, Shinsuke Sato’s film (adapted by Yusuke Watanabe) metes out its storyline with such moderation that the revelations are just as involving as the otherworldly punch-outs. Looking back on the tale, after all is revealed (or at least all we get in this film, since the second part hasn’t been released on DVD in America yet), the story feels a little unremarkable. I could tell you everything that happens in a few short sentences and you’d go, “Huh. That could be cool, I guess.” But as Roger Ebert has said over and over again, it’s not what the movie is about, it’s how it’s about it, and Gantz is told in a distinctive, mysterious fashion that allows for thoroughly kick-ass action and anxiety-inducing plot developments in equal measure.
Most impressive for an overt action spectacular – although hardly alien to similar Japanese entries in the genre – Gantz places more emphasis on how the cast’s unusual experiences affect them emotionally than American audiences are used to. Letters from Iwo Jima star Kazunari Ninomiya carries the bulk of the film, and quite nicely, as a meek individual who gains power, accepts it, becomes a true hero, becomes a total a**hole, learns a little humility and finally accepts powerful responsibility over the course of a single film. It’s rare for a movie that ends in a cliffhanger, but I’m mostly excited for Gantz: The Perfect Answer because I’ll get to see where his personal journey takes him next, and not just what the plot has cooking. The rest of the supporting cast goes through similarly strong character arcs, and enough of the true nature of "Gantz" is teased to make the sequel as exciting a prospect as the next Spider-Man movie (moreso even, after that film’s disappointing Comic Con presentation).
Gantz explodes onto DVD (the Blu-Ray, also out this week, was unavailable for review) in a strong 2 Disc set. The picture quality would of course have been improved in high-definition, or at least I’d certainly hope so, but for a standard-definition DVD it’s very satisfying, and does justice to the film’s many large-scale fight sequences. The sound, however, would impress in either format, and gave my sub-woofer and rear speakers a good workout. The special features are fairly minimal but genuinely worth watching. Besides the prerequisite trailers, the second disc boasts a half-hour interview with director Shinsuke Sato, who has a lot of interesting things to say about the difficulties in adapting the extensive source material into two films and about the production itself. The half-interview, half-behind the scenes documentary also teases some exciting developments in the sequel, which can’t come out soon enough. Disc One also boasts subtitled and dubbed versions of the film. I’ve heard nothing but awful things about the English dub, and didn’t watch it as a result, but the subtitled version is effectively translated and does the film justice.
As excellent as many of these Japanese grand-scale sci-fi action epics are, sometimes they’re daunting to American audiences due to cultural differences, wonky production values (at least in contrast to similar stateside productions) or enigmatic plotting. Gantz works infinitely better than such films as the impenetrable Casshern, for example, and it translates perfectly well to sci-fi/action fans on these shores. Time will tell whether Gantz: The Perfect Answer concludes the saga in a satisfying fashion, either improving or diminishing this movie in the process, but until then we’re left with a grand first film that you should seriously see right now.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (Film): 8.5/10
CRAVEONLINE RATING (DVD): 9/10