I have never been a comic book fan, yet I admit many of these colorful paper adventures have undeniably fascinating worlds like this incredible 2010 sci-fi action movie, Gantz.
It all begins on an unexpected evening in Tokyo when two young friends, Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato, are tragically run over by a subway train to save another man who fell on the tracks.
Instead of meeting death, they are transported to a mysterious apartment, where there are other lost people and a black orb informing them their lives no longer belong to them.
From then on, they each have a new mission: fighting extraterrestrials and other paranormal creatures that threaten humanity.
Each time the countdown begins, the sphere opens, revealing an arsenal of never-before-seen weapons that almost look like toys because of their futuristic appearance.
Moreover, each has a briefcase containing a custom-made suit capable of exponentially increasing their strength, endurance and speed.
But this is not the only surprise the sphere contains, since inside it is a man in an apparent unconscious state who seems to be their new master and commander.
One of the other boys, Joichiro, after he deceives them by pretending not to know anything, admits to repeatedly taking part in these missions and says the name of the man in the orb is Gantz, or at least that is what they call all the soldiers unwittingly recruited into this war.
Night after night, Gantz keeps track of their score progress and replaces the fallen soldiers with fresh meat, frightened ordinary citizens to whom they must explain the game’s rules each time.
Rules that are simple and unique to all: whoever reaches 100 points can reclaim his freedom or alternatively resurrect one of his comrades who died in battle.
Super Heroes from East to West
In the cinematic universe, we are usually accustomed to massive productions with all-star casts and often excessive CGI, especially when it comes to movies from DC or Marvel comic books.
Despite this, such super-productions seem to forget one essential element: the importance of rich and distinctive characters, endowed not only with original costumes or unique superpowers but with deep psychological nuances and personal motivations because that’s where the viewer’s true affection roots.
Against this background, director Shinsuke Sato stands out, albeit on a budget that could never compete with the big Hollywood studios, producing a visually stunning and compellingly fast-paced work.
Not only are the costumes and special effects extremely convincing, and also the alien monster designs from the genius manga creator Hiroya Oku, some of which are absurd or even comical, for example, the unusual music-loving robot.
However, do not let their funny appearance fool you because these enemies show cruel and relentless fierceness and determination in battle.
After 2010’s Gantz, there will be a sequel the following year, Perfect Answer, a movie with a variety of new players but keeping the main characters from the original one.
While this new chapter focused on more spectacular and explosive action, I personally find the first movie more engaging with a more straightforward and easy-to-understand plot, although both have Sato directing.
Sato masterfully handles the often violent and quick action sequences, alternating them with slower, more thoughtful times, developing the plot and character dynamics mainly outside Gantz’s missions.
A delicate balance of extremes that is a hallmark of many Asian productions is particularly effective in engaging the audience in the fictional world of this comic book, open to multiple visual and narrative ideas and solutions to keep everyone happy.
Sacrifice against power
From this 2010 movie, I want to draw a little religious metaphor where Gantz is almost a modern God, and the main protagonists, Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato, are friends so close as brothers into a vortex of ethical and moral challenges, like Cain and Abel.
As the narrative unfolds, we witness a heated internal contest between good and evil; the assumption of almost divine power leads to inevitable temptations of a dark nature, stimulating the desire to abuse it.
The character of Kurono, masterfully played by Kazunari Ninomiya, evokes the figure of Cain in biblical myth. At the center of this first act of the saga, Kurono frequently clashes with his companion, displaying an impetuous individual ambition in his desire to eliminate monsters alone instead of playing as a team.
In contrast, Kato, embodied by the intense Ken’ichi Matsuyama, evokes the figure of Abel, from whose apparent vulnerability and simplicity emerge a natural predisposition for selfless sacrifice.
Sandwiched between the two protagonists is the figure of Kei Kishimoto, brought to the stage by the brilliant Natsuna Watanabe, who initially seems merely an icon of beauty with an almost voyeuristic emphasis on her physical delights.
However, outside the missions of Gantz, Kishimoto reveals herself to be a character with complex facets, a would-be suicide girl who has not found her hoped-for end and finds a new purpose in friendship with her fellow troopers.
Finally, there is Joichiro Nishi, played by the charismatic Kanata Hongô, a diabolical Lucifer-like veteran of the Gantz war with a mischievous and defiant smile who immediately arouses a sense of distrust and uncertainty.
Yet, although his selfish behavior is obvious, he manages to surprise by showing moments of unexpected courage, even fighting to help the group, though obviously in his own aggressive and defiant style.