Release Date: October 16th, 2007 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Kazuaki Kiriya Actors: Yusuke Iseya, Kumiko Aso, Akira Terao, Kanako Higuchi, Fumiyo Kohinata, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Mayumi Sada
hile adapting an epic story of humanity and morality amidst the hostility of war, Kazuaki Kiriya’s “Casshern” presents the social and political turmoil of a postapocalyptic world – as well as the ravaging of visual clarity. What works in the freedom of anime and graphic novels is heavily restricted in the world of live action. Here, a clear conflict between imagery and action choreography steps to the forefront of this creative yet flawed endeavor.
A 50-year war has left the planet a devastated and dying world. The Eastern Federation has risen to power in an attempt to restore order, though covert political machinations rapidly work to overthrow its foundation. Employed by a corrupt military organization, Dr. Kotaro Azuma (Akira Terao) tirelessly works in the genetics field to master the revolutionary Neo-Cells and the ability to synthesize living organs. All the while, he harbors an ulterior motive of finding a cure for his dying wife. After a freak accident in Azuma’s lab spurs the creation of sentient life and the reincarnation of his dead son Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya), a new battle begins as the outcast lifeforms (dubbed Neo-Sapiens) wage war on mankind. Soon, all hope of survival rests on the shoulders of Tetsuya (renamed Casshern), a superhero encased in indestructible armor.
Abandoning conventional narrative and relying solely on the fateful definition of Casshern in the film’s opening text, those who forget the cryptic message will likely be lost as to the superhero’s paranormal creation. Complete with mystical reincarnation, afterlife ghosts, mutant zombies, and robot armies, everything presented in Kiriya’s picture is so fantastical that attempting to understand it merely gives way to acceptance that anything can happen in this futuristic setting. Unexplained phenomena become commonplace while the visuals accept responsibility for storytelling, which might have been a worthy replacement had the imagery adhered to more recognizable standards.
For a film submersed in special effects and computer-generated graphics, the overall look of “Casshern” is surprisingly jarring, inconsistently ranging from awe-inspiring to just distracting. The environments rapidly and drastically change in appearance from bright greens and blues to reds and even black-and-white. Several interior shots are presented in such arresting red and green colors that they appear to require a pair of 3D glasses to properly view. Often, the still images provide more admirable qualities than the moving ones, while the gritty, grainy film treatments intermittently work to create a mood and mask underachieving special effects.
The action sequences (which parallel the progression of video game boss fights) are feverishly complex and contain an infinite supply of quick cuts, spastic editing, and x-ray image splicing. Rarely does the camera slow down enough for the eye to comprehend – let alone appreciate – any aesthetic arrangement or design. And while the frenetic fights borrow cues from “The Matrix,” they’re so overblown that they make that aforementioned sci-fi actioner look like perfectly-paced reality.
Sticking closely to the realm of comic book superheroes, the origins of “Casshern” are quite amusing, if not a little cliché, and involve biological reincarnation with the added bonus of an enhanced body and invincible armor. With such an inspired conception, it would have been appropriate for the villains to partake in this level of creativity. But without the accepted divine intervention that supports the protagonist, the Neo-Sapiens’ inception feels muddied and unrealistic (which is saying something, considering the delicate thread that holds realism together throughout the story). And if the bizarre adversary development wasn’t unbelievable enough, the aimless trek through snow-covered mountains that lands the anti-humans upon Europa’s not-quite-dormant robot army will certainly raise eyebrows.
When science-fiction fails in comprehendible presentation, it’s not necessarily the ideas that are to blame, but rather the method (or shortcomings) of the storytelling. Fans of this hybrid genre example will undoubtedly find many aspects of “Casshern” to appreciate. Yet while there is definitely a style to behold (Kiriya’s background in music videos both hinders and supports this), connoisseurs of the medium will recognize copious faults with the visuals and the scripting – though some of the latter may be blamed on the truncation of the U.S. edit and release.
– Joel Massie