Full admission: I was apprehensive about watching this because the DVD cover says it’s from the same producers as the DEATH NOTE movies. My objection to those honestly rested less with plot changes - - movie #2’s ending was actually more satisfying than the anime’s - - as it did with their puzzling, inappropriate tone. Even putting aside the rubbery toon death demons, it’s simply impossible to take a horror story seriously when it’s staged and lit like an IKEA commercial.
What’s funny is that, even though GANTZ actually spends a lot of time in an unfurnished loft, there was never a similar moment where I was drawn out of the viewing experience by the look. That sounds like no big deal but, believe me, it was a relief. There's no bigger buzzkill than the nagging sense of what your reaction to something should be, instead of just being able to sit back and think, "Hey! Those GANTZ weapons are cool! And so's that whole cross-sectional teleportation effect!"
The deeper I get into these, the more I feel like I’m accruing references for some big, long sociology paper. I was only able to catch the first episode of the GANTZ anime earlier this year (and then I blew my chance to see a screening of this live-action version like a bonehead) but perhaps it’s better that I’ve only now gotten to see it. GANTZ feels it’s funneling every thematic current I've noticed in recent J-pop culture.
Like I said, I’m a little late to the party, so I’m sure most of you are already familiar with this tale of high school buddies Kato and Kurono and the deadly, alien-fighting safari a mysterious orb forces them into after they’re seemingly killed on the subway. In the comparative terms I’m going for, GANTZ centers on an absurd-yet-visceral points-based game of death (like in BATTLE ROYALE) that cycles through arbitrary victims (like the curse of THE GRUDGE) who’ve entered an oddly-understated afterlife (recalling DEATH NOTE) with few explanations offered for the why’s and how’s (as was the case in THE RING.) Somebody a lot more knowledgeable than me would know how to weave all of that together but, even if I can’t, I still can’t help but point out all the threads hanging here.
And threads do get left hanging. This also follows the trend of blockbusters at large by seemingly halving what, I presume, was initially one long story in a fashion like the last TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER flicks. Thankfully, it doesn’t partake in the maddening, mercenary bait ‘n switch of slapping us with a “To Be Continued…” before the credits - - there’s a unity to its action, at least - - but the ending nevertheless leaves you with inconclusiveness that’s either ballsy or sloppy depending on how open your tastes are.
The characters have serious unfinished business that’ll presumably be resolved in the already-forthcoming PERFECT ANSWER sequel. Without any knowledge about a movie #2, however, the ending feels like an uncompromising nihilistic statement, as if this whole thing were but an extended glimpse of some NO EXIT vision of purgatory whose prisoners wear sleek leather uniforms and make penance through the use of cool, head-exploding guns.
GANTZ doesn’t really “work” according to the same criteria we judge most movies by. You never learn enough about the Kato, Kurona and their lady friend, Kojima, to quite care about them on paper... yet the actors manage to emote quite powerfully withing the minimalistic context and through the bizarrely-accented dub track. The alien foes (ranging from an onionhead sasquatch to the bizarre love child of Dennis the Menace and a robot Shin Chan) aim for the ridiculous-yet-terrifying quality of, say, an evil clown like Pennywise and hit the just plain ridiculous instead… yet you’re still rapt during their respective duels.
This flick works without qualification, however, in sustaining your interest, and I was absolutely engaged throughout every step of this unveiling of a challenging, provocative and genuinely-surprising mythos. Even if the explosion weapons seemed to stop working at inconsistently-inconvenient times, and even if the combatants' trigger fingers weren't as itchy as they ought to have been, the GANTZ tools are some fine and creative additions to the greater pop culture armory.
Actually, an armory's an apt metaphor. Maybe it's best to picture this as one of the 36 chambers of Shaolin; an advanced stage devoted to one specific focus that's best kept to black belts of the discipline. That is to say, GANTZ isn't recommendable to the casual movie watcher but, if you're a seasoned veteran with deep experience in all things cult, an insatiable appetite for the fantastic and an iron stomach for gore, this flick offers a visceral ride you won't find anywhere else (in live action.)