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Gantz
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by Jay Seaver

"Would be something else with a US budget, but practical effects suit it."
4 stars

It's a funny thing that the first live-action "Gantz" film feels kind of old-school; considering that the director's last project was a CGI feature, the original manga does not hide that it is produced with digital tools, and the story structure is something straight out of a video game, it wouldn't be surprising for "Gantz"-the-film to look and feel like something a computer spewed out. Instead, it feels like a refugee from the eighties, even if it is dressed up in post-"Matrix" black leather.

College student Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) is waiting for the subway when he sees an old friend, Masuru Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) who he hasn't spoken to in years. When an old man falls onto the tracks, Kato jumps down to rescue him, but himself needs rescuing when the train approaches. The next thing they know, they're in a nondescript apartment with several others - including high school kid Nishi (Kanata Hongo), hottie Kishimoto (Natsuna Watanabe), and salaryman Yoshikazu Suzuki (Tomorowo Taguchi) - and Gantz, a black sphere that tells them that their lives are no longer their own. They are to take the guns and bodysuits it proffers and finish off the "onion alien" - that's the way the cookie crumbles, and just the first mission for any survivors.

It was almost inevitable that Gantz was going to be toned down somewhat during the transition from page to screen - the action scenes in the manga are immense and varied, and would have stretched an American blockbuster's budget, let alone a Japanese one. The original serial occasionally reads like creator Hiroya Oku decided to draw monsters one month, got tired of it, switched to dinosaurs, then vampires, then whatever else caught his fancy, including plenty of gratuitous nudity. At times, it straddles the line between satire of adolescent fantasy and engaging in it. The movie shaves a fair amount of the edge off - the main characters are no longer teenagers and the more potentially sexist elements have been toned down - but not all. Dialing back the more exploitative elements does allow writer Yusuke Watanabe and director Shinsuke Sato to focus more on the idea of how the average person can be pushed to violence with surprising ease.

Don't mistake Gantz for a particularly high-minded movie, though - it's built like a video game, with three big action sequences broken up by downtime segments that give Watanabe and Sato the chance to build character and backstory a little while also seeding bits about the mysteries behind Gantz. The action scenes are impressive, not just because Sato and company stage them fairly well, but because there's a nice hands-on feeling to them. The various monsters are mostly created with practical effects, and while the black suits give the wearers some super powers, they still feel relatively grounded; people aren't being replaced by digital stuntmen. The filmmakers' take on Oku's creations is also just right - taken out of context, some look downright ridiculous, while others are going to be creepy no matter what - but they do a good enough job of placing the audience in the middle of this situation that even the silliest bits mostly feel dangerous despite that. The production values mostly hold up, although they get a bit shaky in the last big fight, where more digital compositing and animation are used for the villains.

The cast is pretty nice, as well. Kenichi Matsuyama is making a bit of a career of starring in big manga adaptations (he was L in the Death Note movies and Krauser in Detroit Metal City), and he's good as the affable, generally noble Kato, while Kazunari Ninomiya makes a good counterweight for him as Kei, letting us see that the guy is quite capable of being pulled in different directions. Kanata Hongo seems to be having a great time as Nishi, the young but cocky and hardened veteran who represents the other side of what Kei could become if he survives long enough to rack up the 100 points it takes for Gantz to set someone free. Natsuna Watanabe (apparently a big enough TV star to be billed by her first name only) is very good as Kishimoto, and while we don't see a lot of Yuriko Yoshitaka as Tae (a potential girlfriend for Kei who is more prominent later in the series), she does a good job of getting her hooks into the audience without a whole lot of screen time.

(Although the film had a dubbed one-night release in the USA in January 2011, the movie really should be seen subtitled. The dub job was awful, with indifferent lip-sync and some voice acting more suited for a zany cartoon than an action movie otherwise trying to keep its crazier elements in balance, and while the subtitled version reveals that some of the dialog was problematic in the original Japanese, it at least doesn't undercut the movie's tension.)

By the time it's finished, a lot of blood has been spilled (both alien and human), and while the film ends on a clear set-up for an already-filmed Part II, it doesn't feel particularly incomplete. It's a satisfying chunk of sci-fi action - not quite the pure jolt to the id that the manga is, but a good ride with a good mystery nonetheless.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=21900&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/23/11 18:52:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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