Casshern (Japan 2004)

Rating: **
Review Date: 12/4/04
Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
Cast: Yusuke Iseya, Kumiko Aso

Um, okay... "Casshern" is a live action adaptation of a 70's anime series that's relentlessly violent, extremely melodramatic, overly self important, and gushing with too much style for its own good. It's basically a strong anti-war film presented as a plodding two hour sermon on the self destructive nature of Man, and the endless cycle of hatred, revenge, and killing that defines us. The film is best summed up by a quote at the end: "We hurt others by our very existence."

As far as the plot goes, in the future, a brilliant (but slightly mad) scientist has come up with a method for growing replacement body parts. Naturally, the military is interested in this technology, along with the old guard politicians who are trying to cheat death. Throw in some angst with a dying wife and a rebellious son who goes off to war and you've got the primary framework for the story. Things go all to hell when a group of "neo-sapians" come out of nowhere, and decide to build a robot army to wreak vengeance on the humans who would destroy them. Out of this conflict, a new anti-hero is born - a man with super human strength, a suit of high tech combat armor, and a major chip on his shoulder. Say hello to Casshern. For about the first hour and a half, it's impossible to tell what's going on in the film, as it's purposely vague and littered with all sorts of bizarre symbolism. Fortunately, things sort of come together at the end, but then spin apart again at the last moment with a bewildering ending reminiscent of "Akira" (1989).

Production wise, the majority of the film was shot on virtual sets, and there's been some debate whether "Casshern," "Immortal" (2004), or "Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow" (2004) did this first. Curiously, "Casshern" and "Sky Captain" share several other traits in that they both feature a bizarre juxtaposition of super advanced anachronistic technology, armies of giant robots, and a side plot to kidnap scientists to develop said armies. While extremely stylish, the movie looks and feels like a video game, and much of the aesthetic just doesn't work. Way too many distortion and blurring filters are applied to the characters, while a lack of motion blurring causes the artificial environments to look more computer generated than they should. The film is exceedingly light on action, and the fight choreography and editing is terrible. Coming from a music video background, director Kazuaki Kiriya knows how to capture a powerful pose, but totally loses it when trying to put the characters in motion. For the most part, the film is entirely male-centric and bleeding with angst and despair. However, there is one cutie in the film (Kumiko Aso) who really caught my attention. She could also easily pass for the lovely Miho Yoshioka, which caused me several double-takes. As is often the case with big budget Japanese cinema, "Casshern" is overly talky and the pacing is painfully slow. Blame my short American attention span for that. By far the best thing about the film is the music score, which is a superb composition of swelling emotions that perfectly compliments the melodramatic angst of the characters. However, in the end, "Casshern" failed to pay off for me. It had some cool bits here and there, but not enough to engage me or keep me interested.