Directed by: Shinsuke Sato
Written by: Hiroya Oku, Yûsuke Watanabe
Cast: Kenichi Matsuyama, Kazunari Ninomiya, Yuriko Yoshitaka
Music by: Kenji Kawai
What is it about live action film adaptations that are just so inferior to their original counterpart?
Without even including anything directed by Uwe Boll, I bet you can easily name five bad live action films that were adapted from either a video game, a book, an anime, or the like. It’s not difficult, is it? I can personally name five films simply from the last few years: Hitman, Dragonball: Evolution, The Last Airbender, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Now, I bet you can’t do the same for good live action film adaptations, can you? Off the top of my head now, I can give small kudos to films like Harry Potter, the original Resident Evil, and the original Spiderman. The point is that quality live action adaptations are far and scarce, while terrible ones are a dime a dozen.
But what happens when you make a live action adaptation of something that was already bad? Will it be better than the original, or will it suck even more? This was the question I had when hearing about the new live action Gantz.
For those of you who are unaware, Gantz is a manga written an illustrated by Hiroya Oku, which was later adapted into an anime. It’s basically about two young boys that are hit by a train when attempting to save a drunk who had fallen onto the tracks. They awake in an apartment with several other people who had just also been facing death as they were; also in the apartment with them is a large, mysterious black orb, Gantz, that provides them with suits, weapons, and the objective to kill an alien. The boys have to play Gantz’s sick game if they want to survive and return to their regular lives. While I can’t speak for the manga, I coincidentally watched the anime a few weaks ago, and I found it to be absolutely dreadful.
So, you can imagine what I thought when I first heard that the live action version would be having its world premiere for just a single showing in roughly 330 theaters across the United States, including one in my home city. I just had to get in on it, and so I did. When considering that my major problems with the original anime were the pacing and development issues, I held some glimmer of hope that a film adaptation might improve on this, and I was pleasantly surprised.
While it was certainly far from perfect, the pacing was probably about as perfect as it could be given the material it has to work with. Firstly, it is leagues better than of the anime; I can’t even stress how much better the pacing is. The original was so slow and drawn-out that I began to wonder if the story arcs would ever end; the film manages to fit a large majority of the entire anime, while cutting out nothing that would be missed. The problem, though, is with the flow. Given that the major arcs within Gantz come across as very episodic, the same thing inevitably happens with the film; and episodic arcs don’t really translate well into movies. While this is acceptable for this film, I would not be so forgiving for others.
The character and plot development was also handled very carefully in comparison to the anime. The characters became much more natural and identifiable, and thus much more likable. Being that Gantz is now in theatrical format, the development was also matched to fit the length of the film, and we see a nice beginning, middle, and end for the development which left a good impression for both the characters and the plot, which was otherwise straight out of the anime. However, the development is only quality by comparison; on its own it is very average, cliched, and even a bit flawed in many ways. It doesn’t run smoothly, but it runs well enough to get the gist of what’s happening.
One thing I do have nothing but good things to say about is the quality of the special effects; they were superb! While not flashy and innovative like Avatar, or Tron: Legacy, the CG used in Gantz is very organic and realistic. It’s not used in excess, but whenever it is used it certainly heightens the experience. I especially liked what they did with the aliens; I think they did a better job in creating the aliens in live-action than even the original could do in anime, and that’s saying a lot.
Okay, maybe I lied about having NOTHING but good things to say about the effects; the lighting irked me in a few places. While in parts you can clearly tell certain shading was used to add atmosphere and effect to a scene, in other areas it was simply just too dark to see, often in times when it seemed like there was something to be seen. I’m inclined to believe it was their way of wimping out on using certain effects, but I would have picked bad effects any day over not being able to see anything at all.
One thing in particular that seems to be bugging everybody is the so-called "defanging" of the gruesome violence and explicit nature of the original. To those people, all I have to say is "what gruesome violence?" It’s true, the original Gantz was a bit graphic, particularly with blood and its partiality to exploiting the female lead at every chance, but it wasn’t anything special; Elfen Lied did the exact same thing, and much better at that. The live action film has its own good share of violence and plenty of blood to fill a pool with, while dropping nudity and rape (including bestiality) completely. I think the violence and gore of the film was very well-done, and suitable enough to meet Gantz standards while remaining appropriate and realistic in live-action form.
I suppose one last thing I should note is that the music was composed by Kenji Kawai, who seems to be appearing in a lot of my reviews lately. Even before seeing the film, I knew that Kawai was the perfect pick for something with a setting like Gantz, and he didn’t disappoint.
So, as a film adaptation to the craptastical Gantz, this movie actually holds up very well and is better in just about every way. However, by itself, the live-action is just alright. The flow and the development weren’t anything particularly special, and even failed to make sense in certain parts of the film. Overall, this film receives a 6/10—better than the original, but still nothing special. If you were as disappointed in the original as I was, then this film should lighten your opinion of the Gantz universe; if you enjoyed the anime, then I suppose you might say that this movie was a decent adaptation and remained true to the original story. At the end of the credits, a teaser trailer for part two played, and I must say that it looks very exciting and much more dramatic than anything I’ve seen out of Gantz yet (although, it’s probably straight out of the manga). It’s a film that is going to have to be seen, but we’ll just have to wait.
What I should also talk about before wrapping this up is the Q&A session given at the very end with stars of the film, Kazunari Ninomiya (Kei Kurono), and Ken’ichi Matsuyama (Masaru Kato). Typical questions were asked: What were your favorite scenes to film? What were your favorite memories from being on set? If you were to be thrust into the Gantz universe, would you make it to 100 points? Just random stuff like that. The truly notable thing, though, is the competency of the two interpreters for Ninomiya and Matsuyama. The actors would ramble on and on, especially Matsuyama, and both interpreters had to keep up with them and recite what they had said into English from memory, and it was very impressive overall. If anybody deserves an award, it’s those two.
Anyways, that’s all for now. Overall, the entire experience was fun, and I was glad I was able to make the premiere for those. Perhaps Gantz has a new hope now of being a decent piece of work in the form of a pair of live action films. We’ll have to wait and see when the sequel comes out; until then, this has just been another painfully long review by the Geek With Taste!