Cast: Yusuke Iseya, Kumiko Aso, Akira Terao, Kanako Higuchi, and Fumiyo Kohinata
Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
125 minutes (15) 2004
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum Asia DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Christopher Geary
As a beguiling retro-future, packed to the margins with Jules Verne-inspired sky-ships, primitive but powerful looking machinery, and clustered elements of genre-movie set design work (particularly the baroque architecture of Fritz Lang’s classic Metropolis), the exceedingly cinematic artistry of Casshern blends its Japanese sci-fi political melodrama with the iconography of heroic fantasy adventure. First-time director Kazuaki Kiriya draws upon manga influences and the animated TV series Shinzo ningen casshern (1973), known in the west as Robot Hunter, fuses his fashionable art-house pretensions to blatant pop/ rock-video sensibilities, and eagerly polishes this big-screen debut’s frequently vigorous live action scenes with gorgeous cinematography and much visually striking photo-real animation.
Indeed, the movie’s prominent colour schema flits dazzlingly between harshly urban ‘monochrome’ sumptuous tinted flashbacks and the positively lurid primaries of a military-industrial ‘present’ where the imaginative back-story offers us a splendid celebration of alternative-history SF, comparable to Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, yet without that adventure’s rampant optimism.
Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya) is the angry young man that defies his upper-class parents’ wishes and goes off to war, leaving behind luminous beauty Luna (Kumiko Aso). When Tetsuya is killed on the front-line, he’s re-animated - while his ‘ghost’ hovers in the background - by the well-meaning yet morally corruptible Prof Azuma (Akira Terao), using an untested experimental bio-tech. This ‘neo-cell’ soup also gives rise to a band of freaky Frankenstein-esque mutants led, and driven to maniacal vengeance, by the ranting hysteria of chief bad guy Burai (Toshiaki Karasawa), who promptly escapes to raise an army of robots and intends to stage a coup against the brutally oppressive military-industrial regime. Only the cyber-armoured Tetsuya, taking on the mantle of legendary hero ‘Casshern’, stands any chance of defeating Burai’s mechanoid hordes and superhuman followers...
Despite the wonderfully dark, glossy-gloom imagery, the unhurried pace of early ‘chapters’ in this picture’s story-line may test the patience of some viewers. However, if you can get through a multitude of establishing scenes in the first hour, what follows is a sequence of astonishingly fast-moving comic-book superhero fighting, and some startlingly tragic developments for the characters and their relationships with others (on either side of the muddled conflict). In the end, you will either love or hate the movie’s reliance on style over content for its entertainment value. I thought it was vivid in its action sequences and admirable in its painterly ‘tech noir’ tableaux. Casshern is a movie to be seen and heard, but not necessarily understood in terms of plot, characters, or its mixed bag of genre themes. It runs the gamut of unguarded human emotions from love and rage to expressions of regret and forgiveness, though its sense of poignancy is determined largely by the individual viewer’s responses to the evocative digital-simulations of life, afterlife, rebirth, and death. In those terms, and in spite of its narrative flaws, Casshern is ‘pure cinema’ par excellence, and it gets my vote for SF picture of the year, so far!
The second disc of special features in this DVD package is comprised of subtitled interview clips, 11 deleted scenes with director’s commentary, some 8mm footage - that includes flashbacks to Tetsuya’s childhood, plus a couple of trailers. There’s not much in this clutch of typical extras that’s making an essential contribution to the filmic project or enhancing its production, but I think it is halfway amusing to try and figure out who’s who in the (un-captioned) video and publicity interviews - as at least a couple of the cast are hard to recognise out of make-up and costumes.