Hugh David tools up for Gantz: the Movie
Two Tokyo boys, schoolboys in the manga and anime, college-age in the film, are seemingly killed after rescuing a stranger from subway tracks. Resurrected in a nighttime apartment, they are given instructions by an ominous black ball, named Gantz, which tells them that they are already dead. Once there, they appear to be in Gantz’s control, issued with strange suits and weapons, being gruesomely teleported from room to mission site and back, and tasked with killing aliens living amongst humans within set time limits. Those who survive these hunts and make it back to the room are critiqued and scored on their performances by Gantz. They are then returned to their everyday lives, but are recalled each night for further hunts.
Fans of the Gantz manga and anime can rest assured that the live-action movie makes few compromises over the more controversial aspects of the franchise, with the noticeable but understandable exception of the sexually outré content. It is not only a spectacular and reasonably faithful adaptation, it is arguably the single most successful live-action translation of a manga/anime to the screen in the last ten years, more so than even Death Note and 20th Century Boys. The action and gore are plentiful and well-handled, characters and aliens are all recognisable as their drawn counterparts, visuals are stylish and effects well done, and the score is solid.
This first feature lifts story elements from the first eight manga volumes, retaining many of the best ideas. The way the public in the subway station react to someone ending up on the tracks, the leads’ initial reactions to each other, the first mission’s juvenile but still dangerous alien and the twist to that mission, the members of the room on the later missions, the climactic fight with the statues, are all faithfully rendered on-screen. It is possible to read Gantz as a commentary on the nature of First-Person Shooter videogames, with the emotional responses of the different characters being recognisable if those types (bully, student, salaryman, grandparent) were suddenly spawned into the mission structure and violence of a typical FPS game.
Initially negative, the apparent empowerment of a weak, less-than-masculine character, such as the lead, by the violence of the missions can be seen as that empowerment that players, particularly adolescent males, take away from their gaming sessions. However, the terror of the hunts is perfectly in keeping with previous sci-fi/horror films examining gaming and violence (of which Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon is the most notable), and the copious action and special effects make this an ideal gateway film for friends of those anime and manga fans already clued in to the pleasures of the franchise, particularly those who are fans of what was once known as “Asia Extreme” cinema.