Sunday, March 4, 2012

Gantz and Gantz: Perfect Answer

Gantz and Gantz: Perfect Answer (2010, 2011)

Dir. Shinsuke Sato

     Shunsuke Sato’s two Gantz movies are probably some of the best examples of how a live action adaptation of a popular manga should be done. I’m reviewing both Gantz movies, because Gantz and its sequel Gantz: Perfect Answer were scripted as one long film. I do not praise them lightly since if there’s one trend in film making I really hate, it’s movies that end with a cliff hanger. When a movie ends up being shot with a sequel in mind, often one film ends up being significantly weaker than the other, or the finale ends up feeling anticlimactic. In other cases, directors will end up incorporating all the best scenes in one movie, while forgetting that the other is also supposed to be good. This felt like the case with the two Matrix sequels where Reloaded had the best moments, with Revolutions being left with its leftover residue. The same can also be said of the two Death Note movies where the first packed a lot of punch, well the second just dragged. In my own personal opinion, a movie should never be shot with a sequel in mind and each film in a series should be able to stand on its own, but Gantz is an exception.

     Gantz really surprised me in that not only was the first movie great, but the 2nd one actually managed to top it. I would not only consider both movies some of the best adaptations of manga I‘ve ever seeen, but I would even go so far as to put both on my list of all-time favourites. Saying that might upset the fan boys that hated these movies for not being 102% faithful to the manga. I would like to say, though, I originally went in to both Gantz movies expecting them to be either bad or just average. I was even hesitant about going at all, but in the end I‘m glad I did. They certainly aren’t perfect films, but I feel it’s wrong to dismiss them as shallow live-action anime. Of course, I have to admit that my opinion is discolored by the fact that I’ve never read any of the manga nor seen the anime. It also helped that I got a rare opportunity to watch both movies back to back in a theatre in Toronto’s JCCC, so for me, it was like seeing one long 3 hour film with an intermission in between. So, from here on out, I will refer to both films as if they were one.
     What Gantz does excessively well is managing what could have easily been a convoluted mess. Just like another recent Japanese movie, 13 Assassins, there’s a large ensemble cast of characters, but unlike Assassins, Gantz actually gave reason enough to care about most of the characters.

     The basic premise of the story is actually surprisingly simple, yet its simplicity gets a lot of mileage. It begins with a high school student named Kei Kurono standing at a subway platform, when an old high school friend he hasn’t seen in years walks past him. Another man falls on to the subway tracks and his friend Masaru Kato played by Kenichi Matsuyama (looking less neurotic than he did playing ‘L’) immediately goes to try and help him. Kei hesitantly looks on before finally giving Masaru a helping hand. The good deed doesn’t appear to pay off as the two friends end up being hit by a train. Rather than dying, the two wake up in an empty room with nothing but several other people and a strange black orb. The simplistic, primitive shape of the orb calls to memory such images as the ominous black box in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The black orb turns out to be none other than the titular character Gantz, a being that claims that everyone in the apartment with him is already dead. Gantz communicates his short, but disturbing lines through muddied text that appears on the black orb’s surface very much like a hellish magic 8-ball.

     Gantz only explains its mission as wanting to protect Earth from alien invaders and throughout the film, gives Kei, Masaru, and the constantly changing motley cast of characters their target to kill. Somehow Gantz also appears to be a fan of video games since he actually likes to keep score for his captives.

     I’ll get the problems with Gantz out of the way first. The movie had a lot of opportunities to make sense, but it often chose not to. There are a number of logic gaps and solutions to problems that are obvious to the audience, but elude the characters on screen. For instance, early on in the movie, it takes the characters a long time to figure out that the leather suits Gantz provides them with, do more than just make actress Natsuna’s ass look hot. The suits actually make whoever wear them into a super being. Second, there are also several scenes where the actors seem to neglect the incredibly high powered guns they have at their disposal. Speaking of which, the weapons and suits function in an unusual way and no explanation is given behind how any of the alien technology works. For the first movie, this lack of explanation works really well to give things an eerie and suspenseful feeling, but I can’t help but feel a little bit more explanation later on would have been nice. For instance, why does there need to be a delay before the guns destroy their targets?

     The fact that Gantz is capable of resurrecting the dead would normally be a huge problem for any story, but the way it’s handled actually gives it some dramatic flair. It brings interesting dimensions to the plot in wondering who will be resurrected and how it will impact future events and it provides ample motivation for the characters to keep fighting. Like I said before, though, some of the characters actions don’t really make sense. For instance, there’s one bratty, selfish kid that gets killed off surprisingly early and you would think that it would be for the better of the main characters to leave him dead. Instead, they resurrect him at an arbitrary moment, and you guessed it, he creates more trouble. This is one seriously contrived twist which is impossible to overlook.

     What really struck me as interesting about the plot, is the mystery surrounding Gantz. All that’s hinted at is that Gantz is an alien being that is dependent on energy from a human host to stay alive. Gantz treats human life no differently from how most people treat jpeg files on a hardrive. This makes one really question whether or not Gantz is a benevolent or a malevolent being. Could Gantz, in fact, be inherently good and the human host that Gantz uses be influencing its personality to perform evil acts? Certain factors suggest that the man could have once been a jingoistic war monger, but I was glad this was never disclosed and it gave me plenty of food for thought.

     Suspense and action are two of the things that Gantz does better than even most Hollywood movies and they’re complemented with some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen in a Japanese film (and I’ve seen a lot of Japanese movies). They’re not overblown and overused gimmicks like in Ryuhei Kitamura films, and they manage to be the real deal: special effects used to tell a good story. Every bit of visual trickery in Gantz is used for a purpose and I never once felt the movie relied on them, nor were they distracting.

     Some of the more imaginative and original battles take place in the first film, while the 2nd houses some of the most well-choreographed and exciting martial arts fight scenes I’ve seen in a while. In the first movie, there are a number of very memorable and chilling alien creatures such as a robot that resembles a satanic rock-em-sock-em bot, and a multi-armed Buddha statue. The Buddha fight scene alone almost gives a new meaning to that old Zen koan about killing the Buddha.

     Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that Gantz manages to toy with many of the main characters towards the end of the film. Several of them give in to their own petty desires and we get a nonstop ballad of emotional outbursts piled on top of revenge giving way to more revenge. The climax could be considered a bit overblown, but it all works to good effect to make the harshness of the situation sink in.

     Am I praising this movie too highly? Well, Gantz did something rare for me as a film, something that I seldom see in most Hollywood blockbusters that are ripe with terrible jokes. It had an emotional impact on me. Seeing Kei, Masaru and the other characters struggle with their predicament and have the significance of their humanity questioned by Gantz stirred something up. In this age of wireless communication, and internet communities, it’s interesting to see a film that plays with the idea of technology throwing human lives around like ones and zeroes just as people do with themselves on Facebook. Whether or not it’s faithful to manga is irrelevant since as a movie, it should be judged on its own merits.


-Gabe Stein


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