Yûsuke Iseya in Casshern

Casshern

 

 

A live action adaptation of the 1973 Japanese anime with a plot that is Godzilla in essence, except this time man’s interference with nature has produced a race of Neo-Sapiens – a deadly spawn out to kill the human race. Which can be saved by only one man – Casshern – a mortal reincarnated with an invincible iron body. It’s the debut feature by “acclaimed fashion photographer and music video director” Kazuaki Kiriya and, like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, it’s all CGI, apart from the humans. Unlike Sky Captain it’s decided to make things slightly less real, slightly more anime. Wise decision – we can now enjoy the backgrounds for what they are, rather than reading them for mistakes, as is often the case with CGI. And the backgrounds are undoubtedly worth looking at, as Kiriya lays out his hugely camp stall for the first 30 minutes or so. It’s a visually breathtaking half hour that’s part Transformers, part 1984, part Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon (he of Ghost in the Shell). Music is used interestingly too – Moonlight Sonata and Erik Satie rubbing shoulders with nu-metal and house/rave/trance derivatives. But after he’s got all his pieces in place Kiriya hasn’t the faintest idea what to do with them. Kiriya may know everything about getting the catwalk rigged, then sending boys with chiselled cheekbones along it to flounce, pout and turn, but the lack of plot and the repetitive “What the…” dialogue do nothing to keep an audience awake. The looks of Casshern are great, but looks just aren’t enough.

© Steve Morrissey 2004

 

Casshern – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Casshern”

  1. I saw "Casshern" yesterday at a packed theater and I was blown away. I went in looking for a black-and-white head-busting superhero flick, but I got a lot more than I bargained for.

    First off, the photography is gorgeous–as director, cinematographer, and editor Kazuaki Kiriya makes excellent use of color and grain in his film. At times it’s a fuzzy, glowing dream, while at others it’s stark, black-and-white sandpaper on your brain. It’s an ingenious device to change the mood of the film instantaneously.

    There are hints of any number of films here–Metropolis, Frankenstein, Mononoke Hime, Terminator, Tetsuo–and yet the film definitely stands on its own. By no means a slavish adaption of the original animated series, it does contain a number of nods to elements of the original that fans will surely recognize (I leave it to other viewers to catch these for themselves). I was particularly impressed by the first appearance of Luna, who looks like she stepped out of a painting by Tatsunoko alumnus Yoshitaka Amano in that scene.

    The action scenes are backed by a driving rock score which reminded me of "The Crow" for some reason. Hardcore action fans who are hoping for a "Matrix Reloaded" bumper-to-bumper slugfest will be sorely disappointed, though. The fight scenes actually run counter to the message of the film–that, as one character states, "War makes humans inhuman." There is a long tradition in Japanese fiction–and animation, in particular–of the hero becoming what he hates to triumph over his enemy. The perfect example of this is Devilman, who becomes a demon to do battle with other demons. There is also a saying in Japan, "kokoro wo oni ni suru" or "steel your heart with resolve," and "Casshern" proves that some decisions will indeed set us on the road to having the hardened heart of a demon. In the end, most conflicts can never be won–even if you win, you lose, as you have more than likely sown the seeds for the next conflict.

    I have no idea how foreign audiences will take to the message in this film, but I could hear a number of people crying in the darkness around me, and the crowd was uncharacteristically silent as they left the theater. As a translator, I hope this gets the treatment it deserves when it gets subtitled–the dialog isn’t particularly difficult for those with a moderate knowledge of Japanese, and there are vast stretches of film with no dialog at all, but there are also a number of nuances that might be lost. The omnipresent Chinese and Cyrillic characters of the Asian Federation create an oppressive mood that’ll be difficult to convey–the nearest example I can think of is the subliminal messages in John Carpenter’s "They Live." Some of the other devices used in the film, such as multiple voices repeating portentous words "You don’t know what war’s like," might also be difficult to convey with normal subtitling. Nevertheless, I hope to see this film made available to a larger audience soon.

  2. After reading the comments on IMDb I was second guessing getting the DVD. It was getting average scores, and many complained about the lack of action. I actually went into this film expecting some nice effects and that’s about it…

    Luckily I was wrong. The story was actually pretty entertaining. There were a couple of minor points I would have liked more information on, but living in North America I’m used to brainless plots because of Hollywood. In the end I thought the story was more than acceptable, and shouldn’t cause anyone to pass by this film. It was the best attempt (at least it my eyes) thus far in creating an Anime movie with real actors.

    I’ve been an avid fan of Asian cinema for a little over eight years now. I’ve seen a lot of good films, and a lot of bad ones. This is one of the good ones, and I hope people take time to view this film.

    It’s really a shame that crap like Azumi can score a 7.5 or higher on here, and something as beautiful and jaw dropping as this gets a lower score.

  3. Easily one of the best movies I have ever seen.

    I am disappointed and yet not surprised at the low score given to this movie. It’s not a typical action flick, as the trailer may lead many to believe. It is about so many things and the weak point is that it takes up so much, it is slightly difficult to follow.

    I can’t even express all the themes and things that flow through this movie. It takes up questions such as: Why do we fight wars? What is ethical? What would you do for love? What does it mean to be a father, a son, lovers, a citizen of a nation, a national leader, human, alive? Visually the movie is just breathtaking. It’s gorgeous. Kiriya is not afraid to do what he feels does justice to the scene. He was the one behind the camera, not a common place for the director, to get the shot exactly the way he wanted it. Quite scenes are thoughtful and even the fight scenes are purely intense. Fantastic.

    The movie is based on a 70s anime which is quite different. But it is interesting to note the places where the movie pays homage to the original anime.

    The English subtitles are quite good and quite accurate. There are a few parts that I would have translated it differently, but over all, the integrity of the film is totally intact.

    I highly recommend this film for true lovers of sci-fi who are looking something that is more than mindless battle scenes.

  4. "At last I understand. We hurt others by our very existence. That’s just the way we live." I began watching Casshern with absolutely no idea of what to expect. Seeing a preview for it on the internet, I ordered the DVD and waited. Hearing extremely mixed reviews, I was tense. Did I spend my money stupidly? Would this movie just sit on a shelf collecting dust after I watched it? Then it came. I put it in, fiddled for about five minutes getting the subtitles to work in English (the entire DVD menu was written in Japanese), sat back, and was promptly blown away. Casshern was a visual feast for the starving moviegoer. After Star Wars, Matrix Trilogy, and other sci-fi movies that have butchered CGI special effects to the point where they should now be called "normal effects", Casshern utilized the technology brilliantly. Stylistic and visually stunning, the visuals could be compared to other recent Asian imported movies such as Hero or House of Flying Daggers. The comparison ends there, though.

    Based off of a 1970’s anime, Cashan The Robot Hunter, Casshern is set in a futuristic alternate universe, where after fifty years of stressing warfare, the country called Greater Eastern Federation triumphs over another country called Europa and has gained control of the Eurasian continent. It is a hollow victory, though, as the years of warfare have left the continent devastated with nuclear waste and new diseases have decimated the already exhausted population. Out of this rubble one man, a Dr. Azuma, has proposed a plan using "neo-cells" that are like stem cells on steroids, in order to regenerate humankind. Scoffed at by the government and scientists, Dr. Azuma is forced to receive his funding from a shady branch of the military. During his experiments, Dr. Azuma realizes that his "neo-cell" theory is absolute bull, but unwittingly stumbles upon a well of eternal youth/strength/reanimation. Thusly, he creates a race of mutant beings called Shinzo Ningen, that vow revenge upon the humans after the military slaughter all but four of the creatures.

    Casshern was dumbly marketed and labeled as an action-adventure movie, when in fact, the movie has only three real action scenes in it. It instead focuses on the moral issues surrounding warfare. Whether it is ever right to utilize war and destruction, and it brings up many thought-provoking issues such as what is ethically and morally right? How far can one go for love? What does it mean to be part of humanity as a whole, to be alive? That was one of the reasons why Casshern received such low ratings, especially in America. After being raised on Hollywood cookie-cutter plots and car chase scenes, Casshern was an interesting break from the norm. It doesn’t dumb down its plot or sugarcoat the issues it deals with, and even leaves many answers up to you to interpret. The movie rarely lets the viewer stop and take a breather, nor wastes time with superficial plot lines. Casshern wants to get its point across in the most dramatic and breath-taking way that is possible, and boy does it deliver.

    This is Kazuaki Kiriya’s directorial debut, and he certainly brings his unique style to the movie. Having previously been a music video director, you can see the influences of it in sharply contrasting scenes and surrealistic narrative. Casshern understands what it means to be a movie, mainly, a visual art form. That is what it is, a visually stunning piece of art with an intriguing plot line.

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