Casshern Review

Michael Sunda has come back from the UK premiere of Japanese sci-fi blockbuster Casshern. For those of you wondering whether to blind-buy the upcoming Japanese DVD, or simply if you want to know more about the film, this is the review for you.

Premiering in the UK at London’s FrightFest Film Festival on August 30th, Casshern is a live-action film based on the 1973 35-episode Japanese anime series, Casshan: Robot Hunter. Shot entirely in front of green-screens with the gorgeous Mamoru Oshii-esque backgrounds added in post-production, this is as close as a live-action film will ever get to anime.

The epic, and occasionally confusing (unless you’ve seen the original anime) plot begins with lead character Tetsuya leaving his girlfriend Luna, as well as his parents behind as he decides to go off and fight against the ‘terrorists’ in the escalating war over border territories. After seeing several scenes of the horrors that are going on, all in high contrast, grainy black and white, we learn of Tetsuya’s death during duty.

Meanwhile, Tetsuya’s father, Professor Azuma, is working to develop “neo-cells”, cells that can adapt to any tissue, and so would theoretically be able to prevent any further casualties of war. However, his main concern is not injured soldiers, but to save his wife’s deteriorating eyesight. As Azuma spends all of his time away from his family, working on his project, he has fallen out with his son, and convinces himself that Tetsuya only went to fight in the war to spite him.

Then, as the fighting reaches new heights, a lightning bolt suddenly strikes Professor Azuma’s laboratory. His research, consisting of detached limbs in what seems to be a pool of blood, is immediately affected, with the various limbs and body parts joining together. Finally one whole body emerges from the pool, shortly followed by several others, and together they make their way towards the Professor. Azuma stares at the mutant, entranced by what he has created, but soldiers quickly storm the room, shooting all the mutants and disposing of the bodies quickly. However, the number of mutants quickly grows, and some of them manage to escape, building their own fortress far away. After naming themselves Neo-Sapiens, they vow to destroy all of the humans. Apparently, this involves building a huge number of robots, and sending large numbers of them to the city where they wreak havoc, levelling buildings and killing bewildered civilians.

Despite all this going on, Tetsuya’s body is brought back to the city, awaiting burial. His father has other ideas though, and takes the body back to his laboratory, where he places it in the pool of neo-cells. Much to Tetusya’s ghost’s discontent (don’t ask…), Azuma succeeds in bringing his son back to life. Not only that, but the neo-cells have strengthened his body in every way. Luna, and her father, an armour specialist, take care of Tetsuya, keeping him safe until his body is fully healed. Her father has also prepared a special suit of armour for Tetsuya, that will enable him to move like lightning, and have unparalleled strength. The mutants and their robot army storm the city, looking for several people to help them in their conquest, including several professors, and Luna’s father. They find Luna, her father, and Tetsuya, but unknowingly wake up Tetsuya (already clad in the armour) from his motionless state.

This is where the fun begins, as Tetsuya, now called Casshern, begins to realise the extent of his powers in the film’s first real action scene. This is also where director Kazuaki Kiriya’s music-video origins begin to show, as a pumping rock soundtrack, full of distorted guitars and thumping beats, accompanies Casshern, who, Samurai sword in-hand, begins to slice and dice his way through the robots. Words cannot do this scene justice; it is easily one of, if not the most enjoyable action scenes in recent years. It’ll have you grinning from ear to ear, and I’m sure that the round of applause from the audience after the scene will be echoed in future showings. Those who think that anime can’t be recreated in a live-action film will no doubt reconsider after seeing this.

The rest of the film follows the lead characters’ (Tetsuya, his father, the leader of the mutants, the General of the army, and so on…) involvement in the now three-way war between the army, the mutants, and the terrorists. The film suffers when it focuses a little too heavily on morality, the effects of war, and generally starts taking itself a little too seriously, but never once is it not absolutely stunning to look at.

Although flawed, Casshern is a great film. The visuals are astounding; especially considering the budget was only around $46 million. The budget might explain why there aren’t any high-profile actors present, although fans of Takeshi Kitano might well recognise one of the actors from several of Kitano’s films. The film is well worth picking up on DVD, but this is definitely a film made for the cinema. The surround sound is complex and effective, and this extraordinary looking film really needs to be appreciated on a large screen. So when Casshern makes its way to UK cinemas in January 2005, make sure to pay it a visit. At worst, it’s 140 minutes of eye-candy; at best, it’s a socially relevant anti-War sci-fi epic; but regardless of whether you’re a fan of anime, a fan of Japanese cinema, a sci-fi fan, or merely an intrigued cinemagoer, there’s something here for you.

Michael Sunda

Updated: Aug 31, 2004

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