Getting run over by an express train probably counts a rubbish way to start your day but for Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) his day is about to get even worse. He finds himself being recruited by a mysterious black sphere called Gantz into a covert war against aliens hiding on Earth. Teamed up with other equally clueless people, including his childhood friend Masaru Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama), Gantz provides the group with powered suits, weapons and a mission briefing before sending them out onto the streets of Tokyo. Like a surreal real-life video game, successful completion of each mission is rewarded by points based on their performance. Night after night they have to kill or be killed, only this time death will be permanent.
This isn’t the first time that a long-running manga has been adapted for the big-screen in Japan. Death Note (2006), 20th Century Boys (2008,2009) and many others have preceded it and the successful ones often made necessary changes that reflect the difference in pace between a two hour film and a serialised comic. Gantz, on the other hand, fails because it makes both too many changes and too few.
At its heart, Hiroya Oku’s ultraviolent manga is a male wet dream about guns, tits and gore with some bonus satirical commentary on modern Japanese society. The film adaptation strips out all of that and comes across like a Hollywood friendly version that bears only a passing resemblance to the source material. At the same time, the episodic nature of the story is left untouched so we get treated to battle after battle without any character development during each downtime. Such development was always going to take a kicking due to running time considerations but, with a second film right around the corner, a better foundation should have been laid down.
To account for the ages of the two main actors, Kurono is shifted from high-school to university student, an understandable decision, but not so for the shift in his actual character. In the manga, he is believable because he is a selfish and sex-obsessed brat whose forced draft into Gantz’s bug-hunts empowers him such that he can a) get laid b) become a (better) man and c) get a girlfriend. Skipping a) and b) is missing the point somewhat and though Kurono appears to get a girlfriend the relationship is completely platonic. Kato doesn’t come off much better, reduced to worrying about his younger brother and looking pained the whole time. The childhood relationship of Kuruno and Kato is central to the manga and could have been used as an anchor for the film yet here is virtually non-existent.
What Gantz does get absolutely spot-on is the visual design. The black sphere, suits, weapons and sets are all true to the manga without going down the route of reproducing individual panels a la 300 and Watchmen. This is helped by well integrated CGI and quality cinematography, neither of which is often a hallmark of Japanese films.
As a final blow, Gantz is hamstrung by an atrocious dubbing effort. The dialogue has been badly translated and the voice actors are wooden and lacking emotion, with the result that key scenes induce winces and laughs galore at wholly inappropriate times. It also makes it impossible to judge the acting. Watch a sub-titled version, if possible, or just go and watch the superior Death Note instead.