Monday, February 28, 2005
Cast: Yusuke Iseya, Toshiaki Karasawa, Kumiko Aso, Akira Terao, Knanko Higuchi, Fumiyo Kohinata, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Jun Kaname, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Susumu Terajima, Hideji Otaki, Tatsuya Mihashi, Mayumi Sada, Ryo
Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
Japan has conquered Eurasia after an extended war. However pockets of resistance remain and victory didn’t come without a price. The area has become heavily industrialised, resulting in wide scale pollution coupled with radiation. Dr. Azuma is desperate to find a cure for the kinds of genetic mutations and viruses that are affecting so many people, especially his wife Midori. He hopes his son, Tetsuya, will follow in his footsteps and that perhaps together they can find a cure for Midori. However his son feels that it is duty to his country to join the army and fight terrorists.
Things are not going well, Azuma is struggling with his research and has come to the conclusion that he will never find a cure in time for Midori. Which is when the news that Tetsuya has been killed in combat comes through, and the body has been delivered to his work for him to prepare the funeral. This is when a great lightening bolt comes from the sky, striking the pool of genetic material in Azuma’s lab and turning to stone. This sets off a chain reaction, and the body parts floating in the pool start to cohere and come to life. Mutants emerge and fight their way free, fleeing from the city with the help of Midori.
Bemused and astounded by these events Azuma decides to dip his dead son’s body in the pool and see what happens. Tetsuya is brought back from death by this action, but in doing so is mutated. Luckily Tetsuya’s girlfriend, Luna, is the daughter of a prominent expert in battle armour, and soon Tetsuya has been dressed in a mech armour suit to prevent his super strength from tearing him apart. While this is going on however the mutants – or neo-sapiens have come across a robot building factory in the wastelands and have set about fighting a war against the evil government forces who are keeping the war going for their own gain.
Casshern is a new Japanese film, brought update by music video director Kazuaki Kiriya, who is married to the Japanese pop star Hikaru Utada, who provides one of the songs for the soundtrack. The whole film has a non-stop music video feel, the soundtrack is an almost constant and striking presence. The film is derived from a television series from the 1970’s called Casshan, which was revived for a handful of animated adventures in the 1990’s under the name Casshan: Robot Hunter. This version plays on this long tradition of manga and anime from Japan, so that technically we have a live action manga film here, but with that one which bears very little resemblance to any of the previous attempts to make that kind of the film in the past.
I’m not sure which came first, this version of Casshern or the film Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow – but undoubtedly the two are comparable. There are huge chunks of Casshern which use the same filtration techniques on the visuals, and the same kind of CGI to create armies of marching robots. From start to finish almost every frame of Casshern has had some treatment applied to it; only the final couple of scenes show real, untouched film. Unlike Sky Captain, Casshern pushes the effects, moving from that kind of pulp filtration, to black and white and gritty for brutal trench scenes, to ultra-hyper-colouration for the scenes of the wealthy and their decadent lifestyles.
In narrative terms Casshern is all over the place. Shifting tracks throughout the film, so that there seems to be a touch of madness to this work. But with that we run the whole gamut of influences and emotions. The pain of a man losing the woman he loves, the decadence of those in power, the avarice of the generation following that wants that power, the desire to serve one’s country, the dismay and distress of war. The whole bringing back to life of Tetsuya clearly comes from the Frankenstein mythos, with a dose of Japan’s own twist to that in the form of the influence of Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man. The aspects of the war being fought suggest parallel’s with the recent French film A Very Long Engagement, with other aspects of Jean-Pierre Jeunet earlier work being suggested. The confrontation between the leader of the neo-sapiens and Tetsuya has elements of some of Zhang Yimou’s recent work, the rapid flight motions of the characters, and the intense usage of colour. Add to that the manga staples of giant robots, robot fighters in body armour, post-humans in sword fights, and some truly sumptuous visuals and Casshern is quite mind-blowing.
Casshern doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, or at least it isn’t always quite predictable as to where it is going. But within the context it doesn’t really matter, the whole is just this fun journey with lots of big action and brilliant effects. Even so, Casshern does manage to provide a certain commentary on current events – a super power fighting a constant war against perceived terrorists, and with that comes a clear anti-war message as events escalate to the point they could only do so in a film like Casshern. If you were disappointed by Sky Captain or are generally a fan of this kind of material then you should thoroughly enjoy Casshern.
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