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Earlier this year, I was invited to attend the North American premiere of a live action rendition of a popular Japanese manga.  Gantz was packed with special effects action, bizarre UFOís, and scream-worthy teen idol stars wrapped from head-to-toe in skintight PVC.  The idea was the souls of recently dead folk convene in a featureless Tokyo flat where a mysterious large black metal ball at the center of the room makes hitmen out of them with their targets invariably being aliens hiding out on earth.  Each foray is scored by the all-seeing orb and the prize for a hundred points is the winner having the option to get their life back or resurrect a departed loved one.  

Despite the promising premise, charming stars and some really interesting ideas, Gantz felt very hollow and clumsily- paced, with half-baked character development and none of the scathing morals or social commentary of Hiroya Okuís original manga.  It also didnít help that Gantz was crippled by some of the absolute worst English dubbing Iíve seen in decades; the producers couldnít even be bothered to match the dialog to the actorsí lips, reading from a terrible script that was puerile and brain dead.

Picking up not long after the first film left off, Kei Kurono has become an older brother of sorts; taking care of the younger sibling of his dear friend, Masaru Kato, who was killed whilst beating up an alien on one of their Gantz-ordered missions.  Kei has been living a double life, the first half amongst the living, working in a fast food joint and shyly romancing Tae Kojima, a kindly girl who helps Kei look after Katoís little bro.  The second half beings once Kei hears a ringing in his ears that stops whatever heís doing to steal away from sight as he dematerialises inch by inch, transporting into the familiar bare flat with the big ball in it.  There heís joined by a growing group of survivors who have learned from Kei that itís better to fight whatever missions Gantz orders as a team rather than get slaughtered separately.  They are joined by some newly deceased souls, who eventually realise theyíve been here before; having played and supposedly won their freedom from Gantzís orders.  In a huge surprise to Kei himself, best mate Kato reappears without benefit of Keiís hundred-point wish and seems a bit different somehow.  It appears Gantz faces a triple threat of his own; a powerful group of aliens wants revenge for all Gantzís UFO annihilation and a Tokyo detective learns thereís more to the cases of inexplicably returned missing persons than meets the eye and attempts to track down the freaky sphere for some answers. 

The final quandary for Gantz is like many interesting things made in Japan, he too runs on batteries and those batteries are dying.  What is a mysterious big black ball to do?  With the evident shortening of its lifespan, Gantzís missions become more inexplicable and desperate and eventually his choice of target is one Kei simply canít get behind, turning the team on each other in a race for raised stakes of resurrection as Gantz fails.

What a difference a dub makes.  When invited to join the crowds at Japan Cuts 2011 premiere of Gantz: Perfect Answer, I really wasnít expecting much, but was open to being surprised.  What a surprise it was.  Gantz: Perfect Answer is a million years apart from its predecessor in every way; the pacing is whiplash-fast (Making the two-hour, twenty-minute runtime fly by), the action is exciting, and glory be, itís in the original Japanese.  Guess what, unlike the first film, this Gantz is actually very funny.  The adherence to the original dialog, subtitled for our viewing, also conveys more about the characters in a far shorter amount of time than was achieved in the first film.  This time I actually cared about what happened to these folks.  There were only a few moments where the audience had to depend on their recall of movie one to grasp the nuances of movie two, but not so much that a new viewer would be lost.  There is less kitschy fantasy about the film; no leek-loving aliens, no hyperactive boombox-playing UFOís and the giant Buddha is only seen in a tiny flashback.  There are a lot less varieties of Visitors this time around, drawing from a single pool of very creepy humanoid ETís with a serious grudge and even more serious fighting skills.  Most of the breakneck action comes from the actual breaking of necks, or at least slicing thereof with many katana swords, which seem to be the weapon of choice for this chapter, unlike the big delayed-action laser guns all over the first film. 

Do we get any answers as to what Gantz is or why it really doesnít embrace Will Smithís more congenial outer space relations?  Nope.  Do we really care?  Well, since itís purported to be the sequel and likely final chapter, some answers wouldíve been nice, but I was so taken by the excellently choreographed fight scenes and intrigued by the mystery of Kato and what Kei would do about the last target, that I didnít mind. 

While I was interested in the outcome of Keiís adventure, I donít think I was nearly as involved as the audience surrounding me, which seemed to be made of many, many fans of JPop star Kazunari Ninomiya, who returns to the sequel as Kei Kurono.  At various times, awww-ing and squeals could be heard during scenes where the puberty-challenged Ninomiyaís avatar sweetly, awkwardly courts the forthright Tae Kojima.  Given, there were some truly touching scenes, but the amount of sniffles filling Japan Society wouldíve convinced the Academy to just hand the Oscar over to the Arashi singer immediately.  The petite pop idol does really have onscreen charm and puts over boy-next-door klutziness even while heís improbably slicing and dicing black blooded aliens in the middle of the Tokyo subways and leaping over buildings in a single bound thanks to the Lite-Brite PVC catsuit.  

There are some head-scratching returns of folks dispatched in the first film, including one character I thought was great and really well acted in the previous film, but will not spoil here (Read our review and suss it out).  These reappearances were perplexing because many of the people brought back onscreen are only around for a minute or two.  I was likewise confused by the casting of Takayuki Yamada, a rising star in Japan who spends most of the film as the detective just missing his prey and looking frustrated.  Nor is Keníichi Matsuyamaís return as Kato much of a stretch for the actor who has done far better things, but acquits himself well in the action scenes, which really are the showstoppers.  The script itself ranges from intriguing in its moral lesson about what people will do to save themselves or the ones they love, to amiably cheesy when that love is put to the test.  Still, no one is expecting a David Mamet film and while a lot of the emotion may be as one-dimensional as the manga itís based on, the actors seem to give it a lot more this go round than the last.

Itís a pity only a small audience of viewers will see Gantz: Perfect Answer, because itís awfully entertaining, with characters written much more likeably this time and far better pacing.  With all its boomtastic action and with the cast finally able to speak for themselves instead of that awful dub, youíd have the recipe for a great blast of summer fun that audiences worldwide would enjoy.  Gantz: Perfect Answer may not be a perfect film, but it is a perfectly good one and definitely miles ahead of its predecessor.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 11th, 2011

 

Gantz: Perfect Action North American premiere is part of Japan Cuts 2011 at New York Cityís Japan Society, running from July 7th Ė 22nd, 2011.  Click here to see more of their excellent film lineup.

 

Click here to read our review of the first film, Gantz.

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Nikkatsu)

 

 

 

 

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