Gantz (Japan 2011)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/6/12
Director: Shinsuke Sato
Music: Kenji Kawai
Cast: Kazunari Ninomiya, Kenichi Matsuyama, Natsuna, Yuriko Yoshitaka

A respectable attempt to adapt Hiroya Oku's hyper-violent manga to the big screen, without all of the graphic sex and violence (or the dog). Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) and Masaru Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) are two teenage boys who are killed by a speeding subway train while trying to rescue a drunk who fell onto the tracks. Much to their surprise, they find themselves alive and trapped in a strange apartment room with an enigmatic black orb called "Gantz." Gantz informs them that their old selves are dead, and that their new lives are under its control. In order to remain alive, they must play a deadly game that involves hunting down and killing aliens that are living among the human population. While the playing field appears to be in an unpopulated parallel dimension, consequences of their actions can be seen and felt in the real world. When Kurono and Kato manage to survive their first mission, they get to resume their normal lives until Gantz calls them back with another challenge. However, the stakes increase with each mission as the aliens become more dangerous and more powerful. While Kurono is pretty much a loser in real life, he seems to have an innate ability to fight and survive in this hellish arena, and he soon learns to excel as a warrior and relish in the thrill of battle. As an additional incentive, if he can earn 100 points in the game, Gantz will relinquish its control over him and return him to a normal life. Of course, that's no simple feat.

The film manages to compress the first two seasons of the anime into two hours, and even though it was filmed simultaneously with the sequel, it works well as a stand-alone feature. It remains true to the overall theme and spirit of the manga, while glossing over the details and softening the harsh and overly rough presentation. If you're looking for the explicit gore and violent sex of the original, then you'll be sorely disappointed. Perhaps the film's greatest merit is that Kurono isn't a completely detestable dickhead like he is in the manga. This makes it a lot easier to relate to and sympathize with his character. Kurono's transformation from meek to heroic is tangible, and Kazunari Ninomiya manages to pull off an impressively strong physical presence despite his small frame. Unfortunately, Kenichi Matsuyama seems a bit flat as Kato and didn't really do anything for me. Kei Kishimoto (Natsuna) provides most of the female eye candy in the film as a well endowed suicide victim and creates an awkward love triangle with Kurono and Kato. Her performance is a bit lifeless, but it matches Kishimoto's underdeveloped character and lack of personality.

Production wise, the film had a substantial budget to work with and looks great. The fight scenes aren't particularly noteworthy, but they're energetic and attractive. The film blends live action and CGI elements together with moderate success, and while it doesn't always work out, the results are never embarrassing. The combat suits and weapons look excellent and fit the characters extremely well. Kenji Kawai provides a strong musical score with some heavily dramatic European influences. Overall, it's an excellent production that suffers only from being about thirty minutes too long. The film manages to wrap everything up in a tidy way, and the post-credits epilogue gives a nice taste of what's to come.