Sunday, January 23, 2011


I went into Gantz kind of hoping for a mid-winter Fantasia preview - perhaps literally; I wouldn't be surprised at all to see subtitled versions of the Gantz movies playing that festival, especially since it doesn't look like the NCN/Fathom Events presentation extended to Canada, thus potentially making them Canadian Premieres. Instead, though, I got a preview of the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival.

Not so much in terms of the content - I've suggested it, but even with the week-long festival now preceding the marathon, I sort of suspect American crap will trump interesting foreign films most of the time (trivia about a cat who appeared in old b-movies gets more interest than any attempt I make to bring up contemporary indie/foreign sf on its message board) - but in terms of the audience. As much as I liked that there was at least one guy who dressed up in a homemade Gantz suit for the event, there was a lot of people yelling at the screen, which I'd kind of hoped might not be the case. For the 'thon, it's sort of expected, but any other time - good lord, folks, I paid $12.50 for this ticket, and it wasn't to listen to your jokes. Granted, you paid $12.50 as well, and maybe you think that paying such a relatively high price makes you entitled to something more, but remember - it's not like you paid more than anyone else, and the rest of us just expected to watch a movie.

Of course, it's kind of hard to be completely upset about it - the terrible dubbing job was practically begging for mockery. As I say in the review, I'm not sure quite why you release a film like this dubbed - while I suppose there are going to be some "civilians" who see the preview and figure that looks like a good bit of sci-fi action, the bulk of the audience is going to be pre-existing fans of the manga or anime, or general J-pop fans, and they are going to want it subtitled. Well, maybe not some of the anime fans (I gather there are people who prefer their anime dubbed, but I've never actually met them), but in spots like Boston, the theater would not have had to worry about lost sales with Japanese dialog. Heck, it could have been a fun experiment - dubbed at Boston Common, subbed at Fenway, or vice versa - see which sells out first!

Anyway, here's hoping that a chance to see the subtitled version pops up, or if Gantz: The Final Secret will play subbed when it comes out in April. I'm not holding my breath - this isn't the first time Viz has released movies via Fathom, and they're still running dubbed - but when the Q&A at the end has the stars saying they hope the next one features their voices, the buzz on Twitter has few if any thanking for the dubbed presentation compared to those who wanted the original Japanese... Well, maybe it's a tipping point.

Like the 20th Century Boys flicks, it was fun to watch Gantz just from the perspective of how it compares to a manga that I've been reading for the past couple of years. As I mention in the review, I think they've toned it down quite a bit; the original book is a pretty hard-R sort of thing, and while much of the violence is still there, they've stripped out some of the silliness, a lot of the nudity, and made most of the characters a few years older so it's not so much about teenagers killing as it was. The first film mostly stops short of where the current American releases of the manga are (volume 15 is the latest to hit these shores), but one bit seems to either come from later volumes or be made up for the movie - I don't think we've seen the "100 point menu" yet, and what the movie shows happening when time runs out doesn't seem familiar (it would certainly effect the story that's going on right now).

There are budget and time issues as well - the statue sequence was pretty drastically pared down (but done well), and the teaser at the end suggests there won't be dinosaurs or crazy bikes in the next movie. That's fine, as I kind of suspect that going all-in with the CGI would have destroyed the budget and maybe worked against the somewhat grounded feeling that the film somehow manages to retain, despite its fantastical, often nutty elements. I would be kind of curious to see an American studio option the series and give adapting it a shot, though; depending how many volumes there are to the manga, it could be a good-sized franchise, and seeing a little money thrown at it might be interesting.

Also, I noticed that they cast a more conventionally attractive actress as Tae than what we saw in the comics. I'm not complaining, but it's a different vibe - in the comics, you can really see that an outsider would wonder what Kei was doing with her, whereas here, yeah, she's sort of an otaku, but she's the pretty, has-it-all geek girl (and, wow, Yuriko Yoshitaka was Fufumi in Adrift in Tokyo? I had no idea!).


* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2010 at Regal Fenway #8 (Fathom Events digital presentation)

It's a funny thing that the first live-action Gantz film feels kind of old-school; considering that the director's last project was a CGI feature, the original manga does not hide that it is produced with digital tools, and the story structure is something straight out of a video game, it wouldn't be surprising for Gantz-the-film to look and feel like something a computer spewed out. Instead, it feels like a refugee from the eighties, even if it is dressed up in post-Matrix black leather.

College student Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) is waiting for the subway when he sees an old friend, Masuru Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) who he hasn't spoken to in years. When an old man falls onto the tracks, Kato jumps down to rescue him, but himself needs rescuing when the train approaches. The next thing they know, they're in a nondescript apartment with several others - including high school kid Nishi (Kanata Hongo), hottie Kishimoto (Natsuna Watanabe), and salaryman Yoshikazu Suzuki (Tomorowo Taguchi) - and Gantz, a black sphere that tells them that their lives are no longer their own. They are to take the guns and bodysuits it proffers and finish off the "onion alien" - that's the way the cookie crumbles, and just the first mission for any survivors.

It was almost inevitable that Gantz was going to be toned down somewhat during the transition from page to screen - the action scenes in the manga are immense and varied, and would have stretched an American blockbuster's budget, let alone a Japanese one. The original serial occasionally reads like creator Hiroya Oku decided to draw monsters one month, got tired of it, switched to dinosaurs, then vampires, then whatever else caught his fancy, including plenty of gratuitous nudity. At times, it straddles the line between satire of adolescent fantasy and engaging in it. The movie shaves a fair amount of the edge off - the main characters are no longer teenagers and the more potentially sexist elements have been toned down - but not all. Dialing back the more exploitative elements does allow writer Yusuke Watanabe and director Shinsuke Sato to focus more on the idea of how the average person can be pushed to violence with surprising ease.

Full review at EFC.

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