Review by Ed Sizemore
Thursday night, I attended the world premiere of the Gantz live-action movie at the Virginia Commonwealth 20. The event took place in Hollywood and was broadcast live to 325 theaters in the US. Patrick Macias, editor-in-chief of Otaku USA magazine, was the host. Two of the three main stars, Kenichi Matsuyama and Kazunari Ninomiya, were at the premiere. My older nephew, Nick (22), and his girlfriend accompanied me. I was impressed to see about 50 people in attendance for the event. Similar events I’ve attended in Richmond have had about half that number turn out.
Gantz is a sci-fi thriller with horror overtones. After getting killed helping a drunk in the subway, Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) and Masaru Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) find themselves in an apartment with a small group of strangers and a large black sphere. The sphere is called Gantz. They discover they have been resurrected to kill aliens living on Earth. They are given points based on their performance exterminating the aliens. However, if they die during the mission, they get stored in the Gantz memory banks. When they get 100 points, they can either return to their regular life with no memory of the Gantz experience or they can choose to retrieve a person from Gantz’s memory.
Let’s start with the bad and work to the good. First, the film was very poorly lit. Talking to other people across the country via Twitter, it appears this problem was unique to our movie theater. The action scenes of the film take place at night in dimly lit locations, so it was difficult to determine what was going on. There is one sequence that takes place inside a museum, and you had to strain just to get a sense of the general flow of events. The projector needed to be adjusted. If there was someone in the projection booth, they either weren’t doing their job or didn’t know how to properly adjust picture quality.
The other major negative of the film was the dub track. The line delivery was very flat. Also, there wasn’t much effort given to matching the words to the mouth movements on the screen. At times, it was like watching the old Godzilla dubs from the 1970s. Try as you might, you couldn’t divorce the poor dub from the Japanese actor’s performance. Romantic moments became melodramatic, and some dramatic moments became cheesy. Viz should have stuck with the original vocal track and subtitled the movie. As it stood, the dub did more harm than good and undermined the film’s reception.
The live-action film is a solid adaptation of the manga and the anime. The manga is very violent with lots of nudity in the beginning. It was to be expected that a live-action film would tone down both aspects of the source material. That said, there is still plenty of violence. The scene where the group confronts the Onion Aliens is a splatterfest. This is a sci-fi film where the focus is on the action above all.
To give the film a tighter and manageable narrative structure, the focus is on Kei’s personal transformation. As a child, Kei stood up to bullies and defended weaker kids. He was a hero to Masaru. Somewhere between elementary school and college, Kei lost faith in himself and became a stereotypical, mild-mannered student. One of his college classmates remarks on his lack of personal presence. The Gantz experience reawakens Kei’s heroic instincts. By focusing the film on Kei’s character development, the filmmakers gave Gantz a nice emotional depth. It also made the film more relatable to audiences, given the extreme circumstances Kei finds himself in.
After the movie, there was a brief Q&A with Matsuyama and Ninomiya. The questions were Hollywood standards: what was your favorite aspect of making the film, what was your favorite scene, any funny stories during the filming, etc. I felt pity for Maysuyama’s translator. It was obvious the actor was not used to working with a translator. He would give two-minute-long answers without pauses. Everyone in the audience, including myself, was making jokes about it.
Neither my nephew or his girlfriend knew anything about Gantz going into the film, and they loved the movie. In fact, the film got them excited about reading the manga and watching the anime. So the movie does a good job of creating new fans for the series. The film deserves credit for achieving this.
Fans of the Gantz manga and anime looking for a slavishly faithful live-action film, like Watchmen, are going to be disappointed with the movie. However, Watchmen proved that such efforts make for unsatisfying films. This film does a good job of conveying the atmosphere of the manga and anime. Gantz gives the audience a sense of the original material. It also works well on its own as a film. Gantz isn’t perfect, but it’s very entertaining. (The publisher provided free tickets for the event.)
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