So far Hollywood’s attempts to turn anime and manga into major live action movies have either resulted in commercial and critical flops (Speed Racer, Dragonball) or have languished in development hell (Akira, Cowboy Bebop). In their native country however, manga and anime have been adapted into live action movies and series with far more success. They can’t compete with the big budgets of the U.S. productions, but the Japanese have been adapting manga into live action for a long time; Astro Boy was adapted into a live action series even before the more successful anime version. These productions are pretty common in Japan but range in quality from the excellent (Death Note, Azumi) to the downright painful (Casshern). Only a small number of the adaptations make it to our shores, so any that do are certainly worthy of further investigation. Enter Gantz, the first live action film adapted from the manga by Hiroya Oka.
For those of you unfamiliar with the premise (the anime has been released in the UK by MVM), Gantz starts with two young men being hit by a train. Rather than the expected result, the guys wake up in an unfamiliar apartment surrounded by strangers. They have been brought together by a mysterious (possibly alien) giant black sphere – the titular Gantz. Communicating only via text appearing on its surface, it tells the abductees, “Your old lives are gone”. Gantz then gives them weapons and figure-hugging black suits, and sends them on missions to kill aliens. The whole thing is treated as a game; the participants are referred to as ‘players’ and are given scores at the end of the mission. Win 100 points and you can resurrect a fallen comrade, or escape the game for good. Otherwise they are doomed to carry out mission after mission until they either win their escape or are killed in action.
The film concentrates on three main characters: childhood friends Kei and Kato, who were reunited for the first time in years minutes before their ‘death’, and the beautiful Kishomoto, whose primary role in the story is to stare lovingly at Kato and look good in the black suit. Although she is nominally the love interest, this is definitely more about the relationship between the two guys. Although it’s apparently platonic, there’s enough smouldering glancing and tension to give yaoi fangirls fodder for weeks.
The film is basically structured as a ‘monster of the week’ show adapted into a feature length narrative, with the protagonists facing off against increasingly bizarre and threatening foes. It’s also notable that (like the more successful Death Note movies) this is a story that is being told over the course of two movies, so don’t go expecting a conclusive ending (Gantz: Perfect Answer, the second movie, is due next year).
This live action version has had a notably lukewarm reception from fans, many of whom object to the way the film has toned down the adult nature of the original source. It is still fairly violent, but the filmmakers have cut the sex and nudity completely, and some of the darkness has been lost. This story has always been renowned for its brutality and although that’s not completely absent it does feel like it’s been toned down, quite possibly as a sop for the international audience. That said this is not a bad movie.
Hardcore Gantz fans are likely to be disappointed by this toned-down, tamer version, but as a film on its own terms it’s quite watchable. It’s not in the same league as better anime adaptations, but neither is it a stinker. While this disappointingly means I don’t get to use my oh-so-hilarious piffy line “Gantz is Pantz”, the result is an entertaining film. It is at the very least successful enough to make you sufficiently curious to watch the second movie.
Everything looks pretty slick, and the CGI effects are better than usual for your average Japanese production. The movie does a pretty good job of bringing the look of the original to life, even if it lacks something of its spirit. The action is well realised, and excitingly executed. This film takes itself pretty seriously and tries its very best to be mean and moody. There’s little in the way of (intentional) comedy, where the only real gags are (in text form) courtesy of Gantz himself. The producers might be aiming for dark and serious sci-fi, but the end results feels like it has much more in common with sillier stuff like Ultraman and Godzilla than they’d like to admit. If you lower your expectations and go in expecting a kind of more adult power rangers with higher production values then this film can actually be quite a lot of fun.