To echo Perfect Answer’s opening recap, childhood friends Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) and Masaru Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) meet by chance, die in an accident and are resurrected by a mysterious black sphere known as Gantz to fight in a secret war against aliens hiding on Earth. Gantz awards its unwilling recruits points based on performance and those that survive to make 100 points can choose to be set free with their memories erased or to resurrect a deceased comrade. Thus when Kato dies in battle, Kurono vows to to bring him back.
Five months on and Kurono has become an alien killing machine close to reaching that 100 point score. He’s had to lie to both his girlfriend Tae Kojima (Yuriko Yoshitaka), and Kato’s younger brother Ayumu (Kensuke Chisaka), but that’s all going to change. For the worse. Former star Eriko Ayukawa (Ayumi Ito) is murdering human targets on the orders of a miniature Gantz ball, whilst a group of black-suited individuals are after that miniature ball as a means to get to Gantz itself. Meanwhile an unnamed detective (Yamada Takayuki) is investigating the scores of dead people whose bodies keep on vanishing and occasionally reappearing as if nothing had happened. All of these groups are on a collision course with Kurono and his buddies, with the fates of Kojima and Gantz hanging in the balance.
Perfect Answer is a prime example of the slow motion car crash that frequently occurs when a film attempts to adapt a manga that has either not yet concluded or one that is too complex to summarise easily. The filmmakers are forced to make things up to fill in the gap, often with appalling results. In this case, director Shinsuke Sato decides on a middle path that adds some new elements to the fray with a seemingly random mash-up of plot from the manga and the anime. What ensues can only be described as balls.
After a slow burn start that sets the principals in motion, the film peaks during an action set-piece in which all parties converge on an unsuspecting Kojima in a crowded subway train. The black-suited aliens gun down hapless civilian commuters before materialising swords from their hands and duelling with Kurono and company in the narrow confines of the train carriages. It’s a superbly handled scene that only serves to make the events that follow look weak by comparison.
The film’s one new contribution, the premise that Gantz is re-recruiting its most successful participants (those who reached 100 points and chose to be set free) by having them murdered is a sublime touch that is cast aside in favour of the black-suited alien revenge plot. Well, there’s also the sub-plot about Kato’s evil twin but that’s not worthy of discussion, since it’s painfully obvious to the audience that it’s not the real Kato and furthermore no attempt is made to explain why the alien leader takes his form nor why any of the other aliens don’t do the same. It’s as if the very thought of having a star of Matsuyama’s stature absent from the bulk of the film was inconceivable to its producers; casting taking precedence over story.
Perhaps the film’s greatest crime is that it lacks a suitable level of emotional depth. With the earlier film having done the dirty work of character building (it tried to at any rate), we come to care about Kurono and Kojima but everyone else gets short shrift, especially the new members of the team who are introduced briefly, thrown into the mix and then are killed off one by one. The intra-team disputes and self-sacrifices thus become meaningless in the face of banging out a protracted chase scene, a less well executed sword-fight and a senseless point-blank range shoot-out finale.
Scratch that. What is worse is that the film suffers from catastrophic imagination failure. Considering the first film ended with Kurono taking down a giant Buddha statue and the manga has featured everything from rampaging dinosaurs and a full-scale alien invasion to a character blacking up and going on a shooting spree in downtown Tokyo to rejoin the ranks of Gantz’s unwilling army, the lack of creativity in Perfect Answer is painful to behold.
There’s some dodgy CGI in the mix too, which is a shame when the first film did it so well, but by this point I was gaping more at how internal consistency goes flying out of the window leading up to and including the sickly sweet epilogue in which everyone but Kurono comes back to life, and Kurono’s reward is to wind up inside Gantz, leaving the stage open for further films.
In conclusion, both Gantz films have combined forces to form yet another manga adaptation that fails to pass muster. The source material may well be a sex-obsessed, long-winded (and as yet unfinished) gore-filled epic, but it’s still a damn sight better than both its anime and film versions.
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.