In a dystopian, Orwellian, retro-future of Samurai steam-punk, be prepared for an overdose of Japanese comic-book super-heroism replete with Gothic design, violent death, resurrection, giant robots and buckets of CGI.
Adaptations of Japanese Managa can be an acquired taste, as can the source graphic novels. Japanese studios generally carry these off with great verve and ambition, regardless of the budget or the script. Casshern is right at the peak and despite being eight years old, still carries the banner for this genre of film-making.
Genetic science attempts to roll back the damage of fifty years of war between Europa and the victorious Eastern Federation, in the aftermath of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The miraculous “neo cell” creates a group of super-beings at the head of a forgotten robot army; but a powerful warrior emerges to fight for mankind. Like they do…
It helps that the source story has an epic sweep, tragically doomed characters and a plot that carries it’s unusual weight to the end. At times it is portentous, ponderous, melodramatic, overblown and overlong, but stick with it and try not to laugh at the Thirty-Nine Steps reference in the middle. The performances aren’t subtle and nor is the script, but in the mythic mix of Manga and Kabuki, we get something of Greek tragedy and Shakespeare, only with giant robot armies, steel fortresses and a clock-work triggered nuclear weapon.
I’m not even going to attempt to summarise the plot or characters any further, to do so would unearth a raft of spoilers, such is the interweave of back-stories, but there’s a problem as you have to sit there confused and ignorant for long spells waiting for the pay-off.
If you think Manga is kids-stuff, don’t. There’s some heavy moralising and the warfare is often traumatic stuff; the Japanese don’t shy away from the horror. This is a live-action, big-screen war epic; Imagine Sky Captain done as Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. You can find in it German Expressionism and Brechtian alienation, sitting alongside Disney’s Tron and Star Wars.
Thanks to director Kiriya’s photographic eye, Casshern has an extraordinary visual style, in every set, prop and costume. It was an early blue-screen, virtual-set production, one which has made a virtue of the comic-book look to cover the unevenness of the CGI. It’s a massive undertaking even by current blockbuster standards, yet I understand it cost less than $6m! RC
Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
Writers: Kazuaki Kiriya, Dai Sato, Shotaro Suga
Running time: 2 hr. 16 min.
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure, Art House & International, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Cast: Akira Terao, Fumiyo Kohinata, Hideji Otaki, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Jun Kaname, Kanako Higuchi, Kumiko Aso, Mayumi Sada, Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Susumu Terajima, Tatsuya Mihashi, Toshiaki Karasawa, Yusuke Iseya.