Gantz movie 1: Do Not Taunt Happy Fun BallJanuary 24, 2011
Gantz is a franchise that has always had a mixed reputation. The manga is always known to have very extreme reputation with a good deal of gore, violence, sex, and a pitch black outlook. This has earned it a fair share of fans as well as detractors. It also know many complaints have been levied at it loosing its way in its long run. The anime has a similar reputation but has a quick fix ending by Studio Gonzo that almost always gets a poor reaction. But Gantz fans are almost always fans of its unrelenting nature. So while Narutaki and I have been interested in this series neither or us has started it. When animemiz mentioned the premiere in New York I figured that we might want to check it out if for nothing else the fact that it was a simultaneous debut in American and Japan.
This was my first real introduction to Gantz. I have heard small details about it, and I even own some of the anime thanks to a very good sale but haven’t actually explored the series till this live action film. And going to see this movie was pretty much a last-minute whim. So while I wasn’t excited going in, I became excited as we waited for the show to begin. Gantz entertained me, Kenichi Matsuyama contributed to that greatly, while also making me curious to bust out those DVDs I have.
Kei Kurono is on his way to a job interview when he sees his childhood friend Masaru Kato saving a man who fell on the tracks at a busy subway station. After hesitating to help his friend save the drunk but they are both killed by an on coming train. Instantly they find themselves in almost featureless room with a mysterious black ball and strangers from all walks of life who also died recently. The ball that pits them in horrific death matches with bizarre aliens who they must fight with unearthly technology. In the day the participants are returned to their normal lives but at night they must fight to survive. Can Kato and Kurono find any way to free themselves from this insane purgatory?
In this first film there is no real explanation of what is going on, yet. There are some things that the characters think are happening but really so far there are no answers; the who, what, why of it all stays hidden. Is it a game? Gods? The government? Even by the end anything we know is mostly guess-work. That being said, a decent job was done to make you want to find out those answers. The atmosphere made it feel J-horror to me so while the action scenes were there to liven things up, the most interesting pieces were the more psychological ones. The assumption is the second movie will reveal all, one hopes.
You could tell that there were some attractive young Japanese men starring in this movie because there was a clear female basis in the audience despite the fact that this is a violent action movie. So how were these guys the women came to see? Kei’s just this guy, you know? He goes from cowardly loser, then to gung-ho commando, and lastly to remorseful leader throughout the course of the movie. The problem is he does all his transformation in the last 1/4 of the movie with almost no build up before hand. Kato is distinctly more likable as he has a distinctly nobler spirit and more background and motivation. But there are hints that his higher nature might not be real in a few key scenes. Joichiro Nishi on the other hand reluctantly teaches them the rules of the game and is probably the truest character to the nasty nature of the original. Yuriko Yoshitaka as Kishimoto Kei mainly seem to be there to be nude when she is introduced, provide the bare bones of a love triangle, and generally prevent the movie from being a total sausage fest. But other than that she is totally there to be “the girl” and all that implies. The girl who is in love with Kei who seems most put in because like Hollywood movies Gantz seems to think they need a love story even if it takes away time from more important parts. There are also a bunch of other cannon fodder characters but they are mostly memorable for their deaths more than anything else.
Kenichi Matsuyama made me really excited for this movie. I enjoyed him so much as the eccentric L that I sought him out in some of his other roles. But to be perfectly honest, I didn’t know he was in Gantz till I got to the showing. As the quiet but intense Kato he brings his same character acting that makes you believe he is this person and no one else. Kei is bit more of humorous character who is without a real direction in his life played by Kazuya Ninomiya. Kei begins to change both because of the Gantz missions (getting a bit cocky) and his friendship with Kato later as the story goes on. I’m not sure if I really bought into their friendship however, it is a bit uneven in execution. Then there was the lovely Kishimoto who is looking for some kindness and finds it in Kato. With Kato’s protective instincts and her past story, their coming together fit them. There is a broader cast with varying degrees of importance to missions and even a kinda strange girl in Kei’s classes who I jokingly said was surely Gantz. None of them stood out to me except perhaps for their bad dubs. I must point out that Gantz does that annoying horror movie thing where people make non-sense decisions at crucial moments. People were also constantly hesitating before shooting at dangerous things, since there was no mention of limited shots, this was a bit hard to swallow.
Before the movie began were greeted by Otaku USA’s Patrick Macias who introduced the movie and the two stars Ninomiya and Matsuyama who came to the California premiere the Mann’s Chinese 6. Then after the movie Patrick ran a little Q&A with questions they had received online. The funniest part is while Ninomiya gave pretty good answers for a Japanese boy band member Matsuyama would answer his questions with long detailed answers. The problem was he once he started talking he would not stop talking until he answered the question in full. You could see the growing frustration on his translator’s face as he tried to remember half of what Matsuyama was saying in the 2 minute answers. The translator was able to cut him off once or twice but those times were a rare exception. The silliness of that was more entertaining than any of the questions for me. The laughter of the audience showed that I was not alone in this sentiment.
I wasn’t expecting the movie to be dubbed, and to be this poorly dubbed was a huge blow. The voices themselves were bad and the sync up just made it worse. We all know that dubbing live action is very difficult because of mouth movements, but Gantz seemed to not even be trying sometimes. So what you had was a series of disembodied voices which gave off a comical air at points when none should have existed. This made me doubt my interpretation of the events on screen as the audience continually laughed out loud. I’d really like to see again in Japanese (fingers crossed for it showing up at the NYAFF this year).
From what I understand the people who disliked the movie the most were people who were fans of the original manga or anime. Since the movie went out of its way to sanitize a good deal of the gore, tone down the sexual content, and clean up the main character I have seen a number of complaints about how the letter of the plot was often the same but the spirit was diminished. The movie was obviously toned down in hopes of getting a more mainstream audience especially considering its cast but I wonder if it will end up satisfying either camp. I myself having only heard snippets about the series I was nowhere nearly as disappointed. If nothing else I think I enjoyed the movie more going in with distinctly lowered expectations. I did feel the plot was a bit rushed as to adapt a good deal of material into a short space especially with the characterization. Also the characters seem to specifically make horrifically dumb moves and avoid using their weapons for plot convenience. In return the aliens seemed all too willing to literally stand around and do nothing when people had speeches to make. I thought it was a great movie for a fun rent with friends but I would not recommend buying it sight unseen.
It is pretty cool to have films opening in the U.S. on par with Japan so I hope we continue to see such events. Gantz probably wouldn’t have been everyone’s first choice for this but I think it suits the taste of an American audience. The movie isn’t enlightening, the story is ridiculous, but I had a good time watching it for the most part. And if nothing else it has gotten me to want to learn a little more about the franchise.