I'm still not entirely sure what the hell I just watched as not a lick of it made any type of coherent sense but I'm pretty sure whatever it was, it was pretty awesome.
Also, I must say, Shochu, cheap sake, Maker's Mark, Double Chocolate Stout, and Taco Bell make for a very interesting morning. I'll have to coin a new term for the peculiar taste that continues to linger in my mouth two days later. How is any of that relevant to this review? It isn't. It's just to say that I prepared to brave the cold and trek out to a theater full of Otaku for a live action anime adaptation that I expected to hate by drinking a wide assortment of Asian booze before filling up my magical flask with some premium bourbon. Yes, it's been a while since my last boozie movie review and assumed Gantz would be good drinking fodder.
Gantz 1 creates a lot of questions without giving any definitive answers. It's a tough plot to summarize as it isn't fleshed out yet. Add a heavy bender to the mix and Gantz is nearly incomprehensible. Much like 20th Century Boys, Gantz is an epic production that will be told in multiple films. It is still unclear to this critic whether the story will be spread out over two or three pictures. Still, this is not a finished film with a complete narrative. It plays out like a pilot to a television series comparable to Lost. A seemingly random group of strangers find themselves stranded in a perplexing reality that seems to run parallel with our own. They must fight strange and mysterious opposing forces and each other in order to survive. Along the way, they discover clues that only lead to more questions with plenty of WTF moments that still probably won't make any goddamn sense after the conclusion. I'm hooked, but I already fear that the ending will come as a let down. Plot lines as intricate, confusing, and elaborate as this are nearly impossible to conclude in a satisfying manner. If you explain too much it'll lose its sense of mystery, if big questions are left unanswered, the audience is likely to feel cheated. Can anyone really explain what the hell Lost was actually about in the end? Was anyone really satisfied with the ending?
For now, Gantz opens strong. Masaru and Kei, two childhood friends, are reunited for the first time in years while waiting for an approaching train. When a drunken salary man takes a nose dive off of the passenger platform and onto the tracks, Masaru jumps down to the drunkard's rescue. Lord knows, I've seen my fair share of incapacitated salary men nearly fall to their deaths in the early morning after a long night at the Nomi Hodai. Lord knows I've almost drunkenly slipped off of the same platform myself. Kei's reaction is the same as everyone else waiting on the platform and ignores the impending tragedy completely. There's a popular Japanese proverb about people not helping each other and turning a blind eye to such scenarios but the whiskey is clouding my memory and there's pretty much a proverb for everything in Japan.
Masaru saves the wino but isn't able to climb back up in time. Kei finally takes action to help and is accidentally pulled down with his old friend. But just as they're about to be hit by an oncoming train, they're transported to a barren room with a giant black orb placed in the center named Gantz. They're not alone though. Others who thought they were on the brink of death themselves have also been teleported to the same location.
And then the orb speaks, or texts to be more specific. Their old lives are gone, Gantz will decide how to use their new ones. Apparently, Gantz is going to force them to battle aliens and compete for points to earn their freedom back. Who or what is Gantz? We never find out. Who or what these aliens are and why they need to be killed is never explained or even questioned by the protagonists in this film.
Gantz provides the rag tag group of survivors with an assortment of futuristic weapons and Tron like power suits and the game begins. The aliens they will battle are absolutely bizarre. For fans of Japanese What the Fuckery, there's plenty of Nippon wackiness to savor such as an onion shaped Yokai, a robotic Bob's Big Boy wielding that shoots lasers out of its mouth, a giant golem, and a katana swinging Shinto god with copious amounts of the red stuff in between.
The action pieces play out like levels in a video game. Not only are players awarded points for kills, but they're also playing against a ticking clock and must deal with issues like lag and delayed firing response. They'll battle minions before working up towards bigger and grander boss battles, and many of the enemies have specific patterns that must be learned in order to defeat. As a film about characters playing a real life video game (make any sense?), this beats Tron: Legacy in nearly every aspect.
There's a sense of urgency and consequence in Gantz that didn't exist in the Tron sequel. No one is safe, main characters unexpectedly die in exceedingly gruesome fashion. Old women and young children are brutally massacred. Gantz isn't perfect by any means, and the weak attempts at humor and slapstick fall flat, but it does have one thing that Tron completely forgot to include, suspense.
Most notable, Gantz looks good, really good. I think my review may be unfairly tempered with the fact that 90% of contemporary Japanese cinema looks awful. Even comparably large budgeted productions like 20th Century Boys look and feel lazy. Apart from a few shinning exceptions (Symbol, Confessions, 13 Assassins, Survive Style 5+), it's as if the Japanese have thrown out all concepts of lighting, depth of field, color correction etc etc in the past 10 years. Gantz is presented with a level of polish rarely seen in the land of the rising sun these days. Simply seeing a Japanese action film look this good may have tipped my opinion more favorably than it would have been had Gantz been an American film.
Gantz is being distributed within the U.S. by VIZ. Shockingly, VIZ held the U.S. world premiere simultaneously at 300 some theaters nationwide 9 days before it even opens in Japan. No doubt, VIZ has done this to combat Internet piracy. Let's face it, the main audience for this type of picture are recluse Otaku who rarely leave the comfort of their musky digital dens, the types who scour the pages of 4chan and bit torrent illegally downloading the newest Japanese films and cartoons. These are the types of people with the knowledge and free time to translate and sub-title the films themselves. With dwindling mainstream interest in foreign cinema and the increasing accessibility of torrents, it's become a herculean task for North American distributors to buy and release foreign pictures, particularly Asian films. VIZ has made a bold move with its one night synchronized premiere of GANTZ, and it's one that I assume will pay off big as I saw the film in a nearly sold out theater. In comparison, Summer Wars finally received a regular theatrical release here in Philadelphia, and the opening night crowd consisted of me and four others. Then again, Chinatown bootlegs and subtitled torrents for SW have been around for well over a year.
I hope VIZ continues this trend with future releases but there's a lot that needs to be worked on. Namely, it is unacceptable to watch an English dubbed film in this day and age. VIZ seems to know the industry and current anime viewing trends, yet they don't seem to understand their audience. The crowds that are flocking out to see a Thursday night screening of Gantz are not Joe Sixpacks that normally avoid subtitles like a bad case of herpes. People who are active enough in the anime/ japan-ophile subculture to find out about the one night preview are most likely to be people who want to see the actors speak in their native tongues. A good chunk of this crowd play complicated RPGs on their DSI's that they import overseas without translations.
While Gantz is certainly no Seven Samurai, it also isn't some hokey non-stop chop sockey Shaw Brothers flick either. The English dubbing isn't just slightly distracting, it nearly ruined the experience. Gantz is a fairly dramatic character driven action film. Even worse, the quality of the voice acting was terrible. Older voice actors voice children and seniors by grunting the words through their nasal passages. Everyone apart from the leads sound like the pickled, psychic midgets from the original English Dub of Akira. The translation of the dialogue is cringe inducing. While I have very little doubt that the words spoken are the literal translation of the Japanese track, a good translator would have re-written the dialogue in a manner that sounds more natural. Also, I can only assume that VIZ did such a rush/halfass job with the new dub and sound mix that they lost a lot of the original foley and ambient sound work. Crowds of people and busy streets are eerily silent, explosions and action lack omph,and the score is barely audible. Since I was surrounded by social inept, maladjusted otaku who had to shout out every fucking kanji they recognized on screen, I imagine they would have been OK with watching the film with the original language track. VIZ pictures, please change this for future screenings.
And here in lies the other problem with seeing these types of films in the theater. I feel as though I need to review the overall theatrical experience of Gantz since my audience was just as prominent as the film itself. The bulk of the crowd that came out for this special event are probably too accustomed to watching anime and movies in the comfort of of their own home. A good film can be ruined by a bad audience.
I can appreciate an audience that interacts with a film, in fact, it's preferable. It's fully appropriate to cheer, yell, and clap at appropriate moments. I even think it's acceptable to shout and heckle if a film truly deserves it. I'm looking at you, Tron: Legacy. What's not OK is to carry an ongoing conversation with your friends during the entire fucking movie and constantly make jokes and quips that aren't even remotely funny. If there's an attractive actress on screen, it is unnecessary to constantly giggle about how "ecchi" (horny) she makes you.
If you've read any of my previous articles then you likely know that I'm a self-proclaimed Otaku/Japanophile myself, so take the rest of this article with a grain of salt. I'm about to lay some tough love on to my peers.
The theater stank of B.O., dried cum, yeast infections, and stale fast food. There was an overwhelming stink too complicated to fully articulate that I can only describe as the cumulative result of a 4 day fap-a-thon fueled by Monster energy drinks,Pappa Johns, and no showers. This was the type of crowd that goes to Otokan and chants about "The Chair."
I had to move around the theater multiple times looking for empty seats in the hope of escaping loud and smelly nerds. If you're going out in to the real world, there are certain expectations on how a person should act and smell.
My first neighbors kept laughing at everything on screen regardless if it was funny. They shouted about boobs and butts like they were 12 year olds who had their first wet dream the previous night. The mustaches and beards they had make me think they were much older than 12.
When I then switched seats the first time, I had the pleasure of being stuck in front of a female Otaku in full gothic Lolita cosplay who was probably wearing Sailor Moon underwear and masturbates to Yaoi books with a hello kitty vibrator. It seemed that every few minutes, she would yell some random Japanese exclamation word for no apparent reason and would often talk to the movie and offer words of encouragement to the fictional characters on screen. YATTA!, DAME! CHOTTO MATTE ! GAMBARU YO! Believe it or not, she began playing a Nintendo DS at one point during the film.
That's when I moved seats for the second time, I sat next to a middle aged couple who seemed to be the source of many of the aforementioned smells. The husband kept complaining about his confusion and that Kei was too much like Spider Man while his wife gave a detailed explanation for every scene and action and a frame by frame comparison to the original anime. Although I knew relatively little of the source material before the live action film, I can confidently say that I now know every single minute and pointless deviation between the cartoon and feature. And from what I gathered on this woman's words, it's a very faithful adaptation.
I went from happy and excited drunk to angry and agitated drunk. And the more sips I took from the flask, the worse it got. As a special event, tickets were $13 a pop and I paid for the film, not for the 30 different commentaries from the audience. The theater sounded like a high school cafeteria with competing conversations. It seemed that the film was more of an interruption for many people's conversation rather than it being the other way around.
So, I'm now on the fence about seeing Gantz 2 in the theaters. I'm excited and anxiously awaiting the conclusion but I can not stomach another theatrical experience like this. Everyone inexplicably seemed to love the film as it received a standing ovation. I was shocked not because Gantz was bad in any way, but because I don't know how anyone could have followed or enjoyed the film with so many distractions.