GANTZ is based on a manga and anime series of the same name, and yet it’s perfectly fine and possibly preferable to approach the film with no advance knowledge of its mind-blowing tale. Unlike most recent Japanese genre films, it also has high production values and competent direction that contribute to a polished, professional final product. Its only real drawback is its two-hour length, as it succumbs to the far too typical Japanese approach of prolonged, slow stretches that grind the action to a virtual standstill for no apparent benefit. At a half hour shorter, it could have been an all-time great, but as it stands it’s still pretty terrific. Seriously, stop reading this and go watch it!
The film opens with a young man in a subway station attempting to catch a ride home from his boring day until he spots an old school friend trapped on the tracks. He hops down to help him just before a train approaches and seemingly obliterates both of them. When they wake up, they find themselves still fully clothed and unharmed in a white room populated with a few other people and a mysterious black ball. Eventually, the huge orb pops open, revealing racks of weapons and gear on the side and a comatose bald man inside. The ball displays a mysterious message about an onion boy that they’re expected to locate, tells them to get dressed in the gear, then starts a timer counting down from 30 minutes. The newbies have no clue what’s happening and opt to pass on the skintight black leather bodysuits but grab the strange-looking guns. Suddenly, they start melting, or rather slowly disintegrating one layer at a time, so some see their hair vanish before their eyes go too, some see their fingers and then arms disappear, but eventually they’re all phased out of the room and transported into a desolate urban setting. The transporting is a cool and creepy effect that sets the tone for what’s to come.
One member of the group is wearing the suggested bodysuit attire, and the rest of the group soon learns that he’s been there for a long time. While they’re trying to figure out what’s going on, they stumble across the onion boy before he starts running away from them in mortal fear. Not knowing what else to do, they give chase and soon corner him, where the veteran steps up and advises that they’re supposed to kill him. The guns are very odd because nothing seems to happen when they’re fired, but then two to three seconds later their shots cause massive damage, demolishing the cowering onion boy. Unfortunately, onion father isn’t too happy about that, and he goes on a bloody rampage against the group when he enters the scene of the crime moments after its completion. With most of the group dead, the remaining survivors are transported back to the white room when the black ball’s timer hits zero. The ball then proceeds to award points to the survivors based on their performance using some really arbitrary criteria, and then reveals pictures of the players who were killed in the round, joining a gigantic list of previously deceased players. The points are stored for each player to reach their choice of a final goal: to bring back a deceased player or release themselves from the game.
So they’re in a game? Are they dead and in some kind of purgatory? What happens when they win or die again? What’s the story with the black ball and the person inside? The film raises many questions and leaves most of them open to viewer interpretation, making for a very thought-provoking ride. That’s partly because the film is the first of two movies, with the other already completed and hopefully arriving stateside in the next few months if it follows the Japanese release schedule. Onion boy is only target number one, and the rest of the film tracks the group’s pursuit of two other creepy targets while they’re coming to terms with their new lives as hardened killers. The battles with the baddies are action-packed and innovatively staged, guaranteed to get an enthusiastic rise out of even the most jaded of viewers. The film’s mix of awesome action and twisty cerebral content combine to make it the most satisfying Japanese genre film in years and set the stage for the hopefully epic conclusion in the upcoming sequel.
The DVD release contains an entire bonus disc of added features that include an exclusive director’s interview and film trailers. The film is also available in a 3-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo package.