Note: this is a modified version of my SDCC 2011 review of Gantz II, incorporating a look at the recent Blu-ray release.
A live-action conclusion of GANTZ was an unlikely candidate for one of my favorite films of last year's crop of summer movies, which was ultimately disappointing stream of big-budget comic-to-screen efforts that were better tech demos for their game tie-ins that actual movies. That GANTZ II seems to overcome the recent trend of failure among big-budget Japanese action extravaganzas to figure out how to spend their money on effects--GANTZ is pretty, and its effects generally plausible-looking--is a triumph in and of itself. But most importantly, the movie maintains its own rhythms without losing the audience, bringing together about two and a half hours of story in without feeling overlong, providing a few real characters moments to shine while still leaving enough of an enigma to warrant future installments.
Based on the source material by manga creator Hiroya Oku, GANTZ was such a curious choice for big-screen adaptation, particularly given how grim the original manga is. Currently being serialized here in the U.S. by Dark Horse, the original series followed high school students Kei and Kato (played here by Kazunari Ninomiya and Kenichi Matsuyama) who are killed while attempting to save a homeless person, only to awaken in an apartment occupied by a monolithic black ball. The ball--occupied by a naked, silent man--is GANTZ, and the room has other recent arrivals who, with Kei and Kato, find themselves part of a mysterious game where they're armed, equipped, and forced to hunt--and kill--a series of increasingly lethal "aliens" for points. Win 100 points and you can either free yourself from the game or resurrect a fallen comrade.
We open with Kei vowing to earn enough points to resurrect Kato--killed at the conclusion of 2010's GANTZ--as well as the rest of the fallen who have been killed in the game. He's working a part-time job at a fast food restaurant while taking care of Kato's orphaned little brother while maintaining his double life playing the game when it summons him. Little does Kei know that he and other players are being stalked by a cop (Takayuki Yamada) working alongside the almost cult-like "Men In Black" to discover the secrets of GANTZ and the location of the apartment where the sphere resides.
About the aliens: when watching the movie, you'll twig pretty quickly what they're about and why they're so dead-set on taking down GANTZ. However, this doesn't make their first and subsequent bullet hell/sword fighting match-ups against the players any less exciting. Yûji Shimomura is credited as the action choreographer, and the Versus, Aragami, and Alive action director has come a long way from low budget brawls in the forest ten years ago. The subway fight between the players and the Men In Black is the high point of the film (a little problematic, coming in at the halfway point, but it can be forgiven) in that it's not only kinetic and brutal, but visually coherent, making use of the cramped space and conveying a sense danger after the brutal slaying of dozens of train passengers.
I said the movie mostly works and the kinks come in the form of a protracted chase in the last third that relies on some of the weakest effects work in the entire film, requiring a lot of motion blur to mask digital actors moving in ways that are far less visually plausible and therefore less interesting than some of the other effects work used in the rest of the film. I became less engaged at this point, and it was the only real time in GANTZ's 141 minute running time that I checked my watch.
But a little fat isn't a major complaint, particularly given how tight the rest of the movie is. If you have a chance to see it this Summer--a slim chance given its limited screening scheme by distributor New People Entertainment. Don't fret though--the first movie is hitting Blu-ray here in August with the follow-up sure to arrive sometime not too long after.
Or the "discs," that is to say, continuing publisher New People Entertainment's DVD/Blu-ray combo release strategy along with the curious practice of including a relatively minor set of special features on the third, standard DVD (in this case the second part of the interview with the film's director, continued from the first disc). The bonus disc also includes trailers for the film and text cast profiles if you'd like to brush up on the actors and actresses in the movie and don't have access to IMDB for some reason.
The picture and audio quality are both very solid—the overall look for the movie is glossy and that comes through in the reproduction on the disc. Really, outside of a skimpy set of special features, this disc is well worth checking out, particularly if you liked the first film.
Gantz II: Perfect Answer is available now on Blu-ray and DVD from New People Entertainment.