Gantz – Review
The last thing Kei remembers is the train running over his body. Now he is in a room filled with strangers, all resurrected by the featureless black sphere known only as the Gantz. But their reprieve from death may only be temporary, for unless they undertake the brutal missions that the Gantz assigns, none of them will live long enough to leave the room. Is it a game? A nightmare? All Kei knows is that if they fail, they will die again.
Based on one of the most controversial manga series of the last decade and leading to the creation of a popular animated series in 2004, author Hiroya Oku’s Gantz has finally entered the realm of live-action entertainment. With its unique premise, explicit use of violence and sex, as well as its satirical take on the depravities of modern Japanese society, the franchise has continually captivated individuals for its brutal honesty and highlighted realism. With such wide recognition for the series, it was announced in 2009 that the production of a live-action Gantz was well underway, leaving many to speculate how it would actually be accomplished. With the considerably numerous manga-to-live action film adaptations being recently released in Japan, the possibility of a live-action Gantz was certainly not surprising, but there was doubt over how it could be completed considering its premise. Taking the route followed by other film installments, the film was to be produced and released in two parts, which each film being released mere months from one another.
Those familiar with Gantz in some capacity will be pleased to discover that the film version retains many elements from the manga series, albeit viewed within a slightly different context. Surprisingly, these contextual differences seem only in place to reinforce the structure of the story to work as a film, and considering the extensive nature of the manga’s storyline, present a very difficult challenge for filmmakers. The changes we do see—such as the title characters themselves, all who have all been elevated from high school students to that of college-age individuals—are rather subtle, and don’t noticeably distract from the focus of the film’s plot—especially if your unfamiliar with the characters to begin with. One who is accustomed to the dynamics of the manga’s plotline and characters will be surprised to see that many iconic scenes make their way into the film, and the transference is respectable to the source material. This attention to detail certainly can be seen within the construction of the Gantz as well, where very little was surprisingly altered in terms of the exterior look of the film. From the structure of the weapons and suits, to the gloomy settings and vicious alien encounters, the look of the film is very reminiscent to that of the manga, which works our incredibly well for engulfing the viewer into the film’s universe.
And since the film involves much interaction between otherworldly aliens and individuals wearing superhuman power suits, the film’s usage of CGI is exceedingly impressive. While other Japanese films have had trouble with utilizing CGI to a believable effect—many times removing the viewer from the overall experience—its usage here is rather subdued and generally very realistic. This specifically noticeable given the appearances of the aliens, who really looked quite astonishing considering the abnormality of their external features—and again, their appearances is reflective to that of their manga counterparts. Even the look of the human characters remains faithful as well, which is something that is not often viewed in many film adaptations. With two prominent young actors in the lead roles—Kazunari Ninomiya and Ken’ichi Matsuyama—their portrayals of Kurono and Kato are nicely done and for the most part faithfully accurate. This exactness extends itself to the secondary cast as well, where many characters find their way into the film too, even if they don’t get much attention. The character of Gantz is also highlighted, with all his quirks and insults providing the film with its various humorous scenes. But for the overall amount of characters visible within the film, their development is considerably limited—and this is where the film falters to some extent.
Fans of the series will certainly notice differences between the film and manga, where certain character motivations and background information are put aside for the sake of action. This in itself is not a difficult task for those who are well acquainted with the characters and their situations prior to watching the film—where filling in those motivations and background information is already established—but for those who are not, the seemingly shallow nature of these characters steadily comes to fruition. It’s not that these are simplistic characters—which is certainly not the case in the manga—but that the film deliberately decided to gloss over many moments of character expository, which was a major element within the manga. One noticeable example of this is the relationship shared between Kurono and Kato, which in the manga is one based on childhood friendship. While one had the luxury of such character development within in the manga, the film significantly reduces the importance of this development to the point where it’s seemingly artificial. As someone who is familiar within the manga, this dilutes the importance of their particular relationship, as well as makes it appear somewhat superficial to those not formally exposed to the manga or animated series. This produces some of the decisions made by Kurono and Kato—as well as other characters—to feel seemingly disjointed and confusing to some individuals concerning character intent within the film.
The film severely lacks character development in this regard, but it fortunately remains thematically strong. Many of the plot dynamics that were viewed within the manga are still visible albeit considerably toned down. With the abundance of violent and sexual themes present in the manga, here we see the ample removal of anything suggestively sexual—minus Kishimoto’s famous introductory scene—but the application of violence certainly remains and manifests itself in a variety of ways. This was an aspect of Gantz that was seemingly unavoidable, essentially since it elaborates upon the validity of the violent confrontations these characters must face. The film is moderately violent when compared to the manga and plays it safe on numerous occasions by not showcasing the moments of brutality directly. Those expecting to see head decapitations, internal organs, or even extensive body mutilation might be sadly disappointed to discover its relatively absent from the film, but the violence that remains is horrifying nonetheless. Perhaps one of the subtlest aspects of original manga—or one of the more significant ones, depending on whom you ask—was the social commentary concerning modern day Japanese society. For the most part, this has been diminished within film to a large degree. This is not to imply that there isn’t any or that it’s a negative aspect of the film, but it does coincide with the lack of character development. Many of the societal themes explored within the manga series were crucial towards its popularity, so it’s rather odd to see its implication notably lessened within the film. As for why this aspect was removed will remain up for speculation, but it would’ve provided the film much more depth if it were left intact.
Overall, Gantz still remains a solid entry into the manga-to-live action film adaptations despite some obvious flaws in terms of character development. It exceptionally captures the frenzied nature of Gantz that was proposed both in the manga and animated series, and reflects many elements found within those two mediums rather successfully. One could—or perhaps should—view this film as the part one of essentially a two-part film, and with a conclusion that directly references to its continuity, this is perhaps the most reasonable solution. It’s probably not far off to say that for what’s its worth, the film appropriately caters more to fans of the manga over the casual viewer, considering that fans will get more out of the experience due to their background knowledge of the characters, situations, and personalities. Part two should handle the complexities of the material much better, but as for where it currently stands, Gantz provides an interesting glimpse into an apparently larger picture, offering something that promises to be more ambitious, daring, and adventurous in its future sequel—here’s hoping they follow through on that promise.
Author: Miguel Douglas
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