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by Theron Martin,


Gantz Blu-Ray/DVD (live-action)
In elementary school Kei Kurono was a soccer star who protected others from bullies, but as a college student he has become just another cog trapped in the drudgery of job interviews for corporate positions. His life changes drastically when an effort to help out Kato, a boy he once protected, gets him killed in a subway accident – or at least that's what seems to happen, but he instead finds himself and Kato in an apartment room with a view of Tokyo Tower, several other random individuals, and a big black ball. After a nude young woman named Kishimoto joins them, the ball, Gantz, reveals that they are all expected to used powered suits and sci fi weapons to hunt down aliens – and, as Kei and his fellows eventually learn, their objective is to score points by killing aliens while not getting killed (again) in the process. As long as one is still breathing at the end of a mission, that person comes back intact no matter how mangled, but each of the three missions that Kei, Kato, and Kishimoto participate in is very deadly, and new players arrive each time to replace those that did not survive. The only way out is to score 100 points, although accomplishing such a feat also opens up an alternate option: to instead bring back a player who has previously died.

As Japanese live-action versions of anime and manga properties go, this adaptation of Hiroya Oku's long-running manga, which covers roughly the first 90 chapters and equates to the first 21 episodes of the anime adaptation, is among the better ones. Admittedly that's not saying much, as such adaptations have a well-earned reputation for being awful, and this one does not give any immediate indication that it will be much different.

But the movie never actually becomes a disaster, and there are three main reasons for that. The first is that it actually tells a decent and well-paced story based on an interesting concept, one which simplifies the content seen in equivalent anime and manga scenes by trimming out several lesser characters and minor side stories, eliminating most of the crassness, and altering how certain events play out (though not so much their final outcomes). This results in the basic story structure being the same as the source material but with many altered details, which in some cases is actually an improvement; the greatest fault of the earlier versions was a needless tendency to stretch and pad the story, and this movie version does not do that. Director Shinsuke Satō (The Princess Blade live-action, the animated Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror) times the action and discovery sequences well enough that they never overstay their welcome and provides just enough character development in between to define the main cast members without letting the story get bogged down. Granted, no one beyond Kei and Kato get fleshed out at all – a meager attempt is made with Kishimoto, but she is really just there to be the sexy eye candy, and Nishi is just a jerk – but at least some effort was made.

The second reason is the skill with which the action scenes are staged. The movie credits a separate “Action Director,” one Yūji Kimura, and he knows what he's doing. The second and third games in particular have a zing and credibility to them that live-action anime/manga adaptations generally do not achieve; these are full-blown stunt sequences instead of just staged scenes made to look like something action-oriented is going on. With the aid of an effective musical score ramping up the tension, they can provide viewers with a suitable amount of thrill.

The third and perhaps most important reason is that this movie actually looks and feels like it had a budget. The special effects – and there are many – can almost pass for Hollywood-grade, giving the animated aliens a greater sense of credibility than non-human opponents generally have. As dorky as the robot-like Tanaka alien in the second game may look, it actually exudes a convincing aura of menace when it goes into its rapid-pummeling mode or fires its mouth gun. The all-CG statues in the third game actually seem dangerous, especially the multi-armed Buddha statue (even without shooting acid, as it does in the manga and anime). The power suits are also replicated accurately from the earlier source material. The visuals do not shirk on the gore factor, either; this is as graphic as any self-respecting slasher film and certainly deserves an R rating for violence, though unlike the anime version it only goes for PG-13 level on its nudity and sexual content and that is limited to only a single scene.

The movie does, however, make two changes that will not set well with established franchise fans: Gantz is far less snarky and Kei Kurono is a fundamentally different character. In the original material Kei started off as an ass, a self-centered, foul-mouthed young man who is as unrepentant a horndog as any anime/manga-related character since Ataru Moroboshi but can, when pushed hard enough, act quite heroically and eventually develops into a leader. The latter two traits remain here, but otherwise this Kei is a bland, timid, and thoroughly generic nice who is simply seeking his place in the world. He does, at least, entertain the notion of taking advantage of Kishimoto, but does not act upon it and mostly ignores the fact that an odd but pretty classmate is essentially hitting on him. Because Kei and Gantz are so much tamer here, the movie may actually play better with audiences who are not previously familiar with the franchise. One other major change – aging the central characters and Nishi to college-aged rather than high and middle school-aged – has a negligible impact.

The Japanese cast members physically fit their assigned roles quite well, with Ken'ichi Matsuyama (who performed wonderfully as L in the live-action Death Note movies) anchoring the cast as Kato and the model-like Natsuna Watanabe (a TV actress who also co-starred in the live-action version of Kimi ni Todoke) being a suitably voluptuous and vulnerable-looking choice as Kishimoto. The acting is never better than mediocre, however, with Nishi in particular being grossly overacted. The English dub voices are actually decent fits, but their performances will also excite no one, either. If none of them sound familiar, that's because those voice actors who do have previous anime dubbing experience are much better-known for their Tagalog performances – not much of a surprise, actually, given that dubbing studio Telesuccess Productions, Inc. is based in the Philippines and regularly does Tagalog dubs.

The American release is being handled by NEW PEOPLE Entertainment, which is actually a re-branded and revamped version of what used to be Viz Pictures. It includes three disks: one each with the movie on Blu-Ray and DVD and a DVD-format bonus disk. The latter includes promo trailers for the movie, a New People promo reel, and a 29 minute interview with director Sato; its most interesting revelation is that the scenes in the Gantz room were the hardest to film because all of them (even the ones for the second movie) were done first. The Blu-Ray version does offer significantly upgraded picture quality over the DVD version and DTS HD Master Audio tracks, but both versions contain a spelling error or two in their subtitles. Both also have full and sign-only subtitle options.

Like with the Death Note live-action adaptation, this one was lengthy enough to be divided into two movies, and the one included here is only first; the story continues in Gantz: Perfect Answer, which has come out in Japan but whose North American release is still pending at the time of this writing. Even so, the movie still clocks in at a little over two hours. The break point is a good one, though, and the story is self-contained enough that even non-anime/manga fans and those unfamiliar with the franchise could still enjoy it as high-end B movie-level entertainment.

Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Music : B+

+ Sharp special effects, good action scenes, interesting concept.
Mediocre acting in both original and English dub performances, Kei is (comparatively) too bland.

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Production Info:
Director: Shinsuke Satō
Screenplay: Yūsuke Watanabe
Music: Kenji Kawai
Original creator: Hiroya Oku

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Gantz (live-action movie)

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