GANTZ (2011) [New People]
Anthony Romero
January 21, 2011
Note: review may contain spoilers

I attended the live world premiere for GANTZ yesterday night, marking my second for a Toho film after Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). The venue was hosted by Patrick Macias, author of Tokyoscope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion, who both introduced the movie and also conducted interviews following the screening. Looking beyond the event, though, the film itself wasn't anything special. It's a rather tepid, middle of the road production that is held back largely by its characters more than anything else. S decent premise and good special effects make it out to be a quirky, forgettable, popcorn entertainment-like feature. It also doesn't help that for its grand debut New People, along with sponsor Dark Horse, decided on a lazy dubbed version that in its own right is pretty awful.

In terms of plot, the movie starts out with what seems to be the death of recently reunited friends Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato. In actuality, the two are transported to a small room looking out on Tokyo Tower with a group of strangers and a large, black orb. It becomes clear that everyone in the room had similarly died that day, before the orb opens to distribute weapons and suits. It also gives an order, an "alien" target for them to destroy. The orb then transports them out of the room and in the vicinity of the target, which appears to be a small child... although not human. Some of the group ends up cornering and killing the small creature, only to anger their true target: a full grown adult version which quickly kills most of the group before the "alien" is finally destroyed. The few survivors, which include among them Kei, Kato and a girl named Kishimoto, are then brought back to the room for a score tally before they then vanish from the room back to their daily lives. The next night, though, they are all transported back to GANTZ, the black orb, and learn that they will repeat this each night, hunting down "aliens" until they get 100 points which lets them either erase their memory and escape or resurrect someone of their choice.

The story, which is an adaptation of a lengthy manga series of the same name, sets up the premise while the second movie is set to move the story even further. I should preface by saying that I'm unfamiliar with the manga or anime work related to GANTZ. This film is my only outlet, so take this as a "non-fan" perspective on what the movie is like. In terms of the plot, it's decent. There is enough interest and intrigue to keep the film going, although the highlights are naturally the alien hunts. In total, the movie has three of these sequences starting with the "onion alien", before moving to the juke box one and finally the statues. Each is different in terms of its overall feeling. The first is a huge shocker when it starts, as its incredibly gory with an almost horror-like feeling, as the creature brutally slashes and crushes the humans. It's unlike anything else in the movie. The second hunt is totally different, being more comedic and action oriented, with a rather quirky retro-robot. The third is... slow. Sadly, the climax is left to the weakest of these sequences, as its too drawn out with poor pacing. The movie also suffers from characters who just don't use their guns enough. The third hunt starts out against a giant creature, which would give them more than enough chances to just blast it with their incredibly powerful guns, yet everyone just kind of dodges over and over again. The creature proves to be nimble on its own, but with all of them surrounding it the fight should have been long over before it started.

So the premise of the film isn't the problem. It's a unique and easy set up for action segments, while also roping the audience into the mystery element as hints are given that everything isn't quite as it seems. What is the problem, though, are the characters that inhibit the plot. Long story short, none of them are interesting. Our main character is Kei Kurono, who starts out as an awkward college student, especially around women. After his second hunt, he sporadically becomes an overly cocky jerk, with a character transformation that has the same subtlety as hitting a light switch. His character then does another 180 degree shift by becoming angsty, before the movie finally presents him as a possible leader figure. Throughout this, though, he is never likeable. Next up is Kato, who is the stoic type with a troubled past. What little time is spent developing him between the hunts is abrupt and awkward, especially his confession of his past violence which literally comes out of know where in a conversation. We gain some insight on his circumstances, but very little of his personality, which makes him pretty dull.

Moving on to the female side of the characters is Kishimoto, who falls head over heels for Kato instantly. Given her background, as someone who was recently dumped by her boyfriend and driven to the point of suicide, her falling for Kato after a single act of kindness makes logical sense as people are never more quick to try to become romantically involved than after a failed relationship. That's really all there is to say, as the character doesn't do much else beyond fawn over Kato besides look pretty and typically either quickly gets saved or save someone before she is removed from the action and stands around some more. Finally we have Tae Kojima, the only main character not involved in the hunts as she is simply one of Kei's classmates. She's madly in love with Kei to the point of drawing a manga almost worshipping an archetype for him she creates in her head. Personally, I'm a little tired of the self-manga appreciation seen in these adaptations. I rolled my eyes when it happened in the 20th Century Boys films, and I do so here again. To put it in perspective, it's not like you ever see a movie with Iron Man or Wolverine and they suddenly pick up a friend who shamelessly shows him a comic book and gushes about how awesome comics are. There are better ways to honor the source. Anyway, besides her manga stuff, she is completely awkward in every way. In fact, she isn't a character, she's an over-the-top parody. She's shy, and yet still walks up to Kei and accidentally blurts out how she watches him all the time. To be fair, she gets a few laughs, but her character feels out of place in this production, and, again, more like the type of character you would find in a parody who is spoofing someone else.

In terms of the acting performances, they were a little hard to judge because of the dubbing. I can say that Kanata Hongo, who briefly plays Joichiro Nishi, was rather annoyingly chewing his scenes with his over acting. Without hearing his actual line delivery, though, it's hard to say if this worked or not, but in the dubbed version it looked pretty hammy. Kazunari Ninomiya (Kei) and Kenichi Matsuyama (Kato) seem to do okay with their respective characters, but the true test will be hearing them speak the lines. Natsuna Watanabe, who plays Kishimoto, does a fine job with what little she is given, which is commendable as her character seems to be set up as just the resident sex appeal for the film. In fact, I'm sure cinematographer Taro Kawazu had a lot of fun arranging these shots, as there are quite a few where her leather clad butt is the only part of her in the frame.

Still, I can't go any further without talking about the dubbing. I will be honest: for a commercial film, this is one of the worst I have heard in theaters. It sounds like there was very little care placed toward making it sound good, and instead there was only a focus on getting it finished. It's real a text book example of how many ways you can mess up a dub. Awful performances? Check. Horrible attempts from a voice actor to mask that they are doing several voices? Check. Horrible lip matching? Check. Awkward pacing to line delivery? Check, check and check. While the dub didn't ruin the film, I can say I have no desire to ever see it this way again, and they really did the production a disservice by giving its world premiere this type of treatment.

Continuing on the sound department, we also have the movie's soundtrack created by Kenji Kawai. Although Kawai has done a lot of scores in his career, I tend to associate him most for his work in the horror genre, such as with Ring (1998) and Dark Water (2002). He is more subtle and tends to do best with eerie material... neither of which is a good fit for GANTZ. In the end, Kawai's work here is hardly noticeable, outside of one theme that plays while they are getting ready in the room. The movie is mostly filled with silence anyway, but on the few times there is a cue, Kawai fails to really make it stand out.

To end this review on a positive note, I will touch basis on the special effects. Supervised by Makoto Kamiya, who also did Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), the effect work is really stellar. There are a few shots that are uneven, such as close ups of the "onion kid", but the film continues the trend set by the 20th Century Boys movies of creating special effects that are getting closer and closer to looking comparable to the midrange productions coming out of the US.

Overall, GANTZ is decent, but could have been a lot better. The film is quirky for sure, but to give it credit, there are some solid laughs to be had while some of the action is very well done. The first two hunts, for example, are great sequences. It's just a shame everything outside of that is more decidingly on the "meh" side.