Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Review: Casshern borders the Rule of Cool

Marketed as a scifi action-adventure story, Casshern is not quite what it says it is. It's a serious yet bizarre piece of film, rendered almost entirely on the greenscreen with special effects that so closely border the Rule of Cool you don't really care what's going on half of the time.

TITLE: Casshern
Kazuaki Kiriya
Dai Sato, Shotaro Suga, Tatsuo Yoshida (Characters)
Yusuke Iseya, Kumiko Aso, Akira Terao, Kanako Higuchi, Fumiyo Kohinata, Hiroyuki Miyasako

Let's begin at the beginning.

Casshern is set some time in the future right in the wake of a fifty-year war between two great countries. The world now is a dark landscape, covered in pollution, but as with any great wars, the aftermath has resulted in a bubble of technological advancements. One such advancement is Dr. Azuma's breakthrough discovery of Neo-Cells, which are not unlike stem cells that can endlessly regenerate. Dr. Azuma first comes up with the idea in an effort to find a cure for his ailing wife but tries to get the government interested by highlighting the possibilities of such technology. At first rejected by the government, his research eventually finds secret funding from Naito, the government's military adviser.
While Dr. Azuma is busy playing god, his only son, the idealistic Tetsuya, volunteers to join the army and gets killed in the ensuing fight. Dr. Azuma receives the news of his son's death at the same moment he realizes that his Neo-Cell research is a failure. Just as Tetsuya's body is escorted to Dr. Azuma's laboratory, a huge bolt of lightning suddenly descends upon the facility. The incident causes a phenomenon, resulting in the creation of artificial humans called "Neo-sapiens." The government soon eliminates all save for three, who manage to escape into an abandoned city filled with dormant robots. There, they vow to take revenge upon humanity which rejected them.
Meanwhile, back in the lab, Dr. Azuma tries to revive Tetsuya by putting his body in the Neo-cell tank. The attempt is successful and Dr. Azuma tasks Dr. Kozuki, his colleague who also happens to be the father of Tetsuya's fiancee, to treat Tetsuya's yet-unstable body. Eventually, Tetsuya heals but by then the Neo-sapiens have waged a full-fledged war against the humans, destroying cities and killing humans without mercy. It is now up to Tetsuya to stop them but he is not without his own nightmares to battle.

AMAZON: Director's Cut | Regular Edition | Region 3 Import (w/ English Subtitles)
YES ASIA: DVD (US Version) | DVD (Japan Version) | DVD (HK Version)

That's about as straightforward a summary as I can do with this loopy, dense, and outright weird post-apocalyptic movie. To add more to the confusion, nearly all characters are conflicted. There's Dr. Azuma, who only wants to cure his wife but ends up playing god and "giving birth" to the Neo-sapiens, the enemy of the human race. There's Tetsuya, who starts off as extremely idealistic and nationalistic only to find that the war he is so proud to take part in turns out to be nothing more than manslaughter of the mass variety. And, of course, there's the Neo-sapiens themselves who, for all intents and purposes, are the children of the human race but who find themselves targeted by their hatred.
Like its characters, the movie is multi-layered. It's quite an accomplishment, when you think about it. In an attempt to connect all characters, the film manages to squeeze so much information in just forty minutes. Even so, I can't say that Casshern did not suffer as a result. At several points, it did feel like the movie is needlessly detailed. It tries to be political, sci fi, action, drama, romance and philosophical all at once, and while for some people, that's what makes this movie special (at least, when compared to other CGI action movies out there), it begs to be told: Make up your mind. Unfortunately, the film never does and we are left with a story that's confused with itself.
That said, let's move on to the more enjoyable aspects of Casshern. There is no doubt that the best part about Casshern is its clever use of CGI and the digital backlot filmmaking method. The picture is beautiful, hands-down. Rather than try to be realistic, the film, in noir-esque fashion, saturates many of its scenes with unassuming colors to reflect the maudlin mood, puts its characters in stark contrast with the background by putting undue emphasis on such negligible objects like Braishin's cape or Luna's eyes, and then makes everything -- literally -- explode once the action starts. The film even employs stop-motion animation like you would never believe: screws and bolts flying about as Tetsuya rips through the robot army, holy crap!
Casshern's script may be weak in terms of character development and plot execution, but the story concept is fascinating by itself. Add to that the astounding visuals and the movie does what it's meant to do: entertain.

Casshern @ IMDB
More Screencaps from Casshern