If you think that only Hollywood is tapping deep into comic book source material for its films, well they're not alone, with the Japanese also digging deep into its rich manga culture for adaptations to bring to the silver screen. It's taken Gantz quite some time to reach our shores given that the concluding sequel had already been aired weeks ago and we're only getting the first installment, but as I say it's always better late than never. Based upon the original works by Hiroya Oku, Gantz is a science fiction fantasy film that posed a lot more questions than it answered, and really asks that you put aside nagging thoughts and accept things for what they are at face value until the second film rolls along.
We're introduced to the teenagers Masaru Kato (the popular Kenichi Matsuyama) and Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) who meet by chance at a subway station, once best friends with the latter always standing up for the former. They get involved in rescuing a man who had fallen onto the train tracks, but in the process get themselves killed, yet transported into some sparse apartment room together with strangers, all of whom had their life expired, and a huge black orb to whom they owe their temporal lives to. Here's where a lot of questions get tossed up as to the origins of the orb, and some thick existential queries - are they really dead, or operating on a separate limbo plane, or are really just dreaming - but put all of these aside to just soak up the ground rules that the characters have to engage in, and the set action sequences that come with the territory.
To help make the narrative a little bit more palatable, treat it as an extreme version of Men in Black, where a randomly selected group of apparently dead folks get topped up into an existing team, all of whom are given exo-skeleton suits to power up and weapons fit to kill aliens who walk this earth. Gantz, the orb within which houses a comatosed bald man communicating via a console on the orb, summons the players, sets the mission objectives, and teleports them into the thick of the action. Survive, and you get to live another day. Die, and you'll stay dead permanently. With a catch of course, where a Gantz summoned player earn meagre points in a mission (in addition to getting insulted),and a 100 points allows one to either wipe one's memory and go back to the "real world" not remembering a single thing when serving Gantz, or opting to resurrect a fallen comrade.
The first hour or so is spent learning the ground rules, and what better way than to be thrown into the deep end of the pool in an effort to immerse both the characters and audience in double quick time. Our main protagonists with their different perspectives and values often come up clashing against once another in their ideals, but when push comes to shove it's a life and death issue should they choose not to cooperate with each other, and with others in the same boat, unless of course one decides to use the clueless newbies as fodder.
The story's made more interesting with this particular contrast between the two leads, one being very reluctant to shed more blood and taking it upon himself to ensure that the newbies are properly briefed and told of the risks involved, often being ridiculed, while the other sees his new life under Gantz as an opportunity to rise up and be the hero he's meant to be, since in real life he's a zero this presents him a chance to answer what would be his calling in life, bordering on arrogance and partaking in riskier maneuvers. But alas given the need to cram everything into a slightly more than two hour film, you can bet that plenty of characterization and development got thrown out of the window, and subplot casualties include the romances between Kato and buxomy Kei Kishimoto (Natsuna Watanabe),and that of Kurono and fellow student and manga enthusiast Tae Kojima (Yuriko Yoshitaka),whom I suspect will have a much larger role in the concluding film.
Surprisingly there is plenty of bloody violence and gore peppered throughout the film, sticking close to the treatment as in the manga and anime, with only the gratuitous nudity in the source materials being toned down by quite a bit in the live action movie. Computer generated graphics are the order of the day, as plenty of futuristic weapons got produced, in addition to the skin tight exo-skeleton suit. Villainous aliens take on different looks, from robots with awkward mobility, to inhabiting statues of Buddhas that give rise to one of the largest action sequences in the film that came complete with high casualty and property damage.
Undoubtedly a special effects extravaganza, Gantz is ultimately half a film, and I am looking forward to the concluding episode to wrap up the open questions posed here. After all, the sequel's subtitle is Perfect Answer, so I'm really hoping for that to happen. Stay tuned during and after the closing credits for that trailer to the sequel, and tell me if that doesn't pique your interest even more, so much so that like me I'm putting that anime DVD collection on my wish list. Recommended!