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read another review of Casshern
cast: Yusuke Iseya, Kumiko Aso, Akira Terao, Kanako Higuchi, and Fumiyo Kohinata
director: Kazuaki Kiriya
125 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum Asia DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Christopher Geary
As a beguiling retro-future, packed to the margins with Verne-inspired sky-ships, primitive
but powerful looking machinery, and clustered elements of genre-movie set design work
(particularly the baroque architecture of Lang's classic
the exceedingly cinematic artistry of Casshern blends its Japanese sci-fi political
melodrama with the iconography of heroic fantasy adventure. First-time director Kazuaki
Kiriya draws upon manga comics' influences and the animated TV series Shinzo ningen
casshern (1973), known in the west as Robot Hunter, fuses his fashionable
'art house' pretensions to blatant pop/ rock-video sensibilities, and eagerly polishes
this big-screen debut's frequently vigorous live action scenes with gorgeous cinematography
and much visually striking CGI.
Indeed, the film's prominent colour schema flits dazzlingly between harshly urban 'monochrome',
sumptuous tinted flashbacks and the positively lurid primaries of a military-industrial
'present' where the imaginative backstory offers us a splendid celebration of alternative
history SF, comparable to Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, yet without that adventure's
Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya) is the angry young man that defies his upper-class parents' wishes
and goes off to war, leaving behind luminous beauty Luna (Kumiko Aso). When Tetsuya is
killed on the frontline, he's re-animated (while his 'ghost' hovers in the background)
by the well-meaning yet morally corruptible Prof Azuma (Akira Terao), using an untested
experimental biotech. This 'neo-cell' soup also gives rise to a band of freaky Frankenstein-esque
mutants led, and driven to maniacal vengeance, by the ranting hysteria of chief bad guy
Burai (Toshiaki Karasawa), who promptly escapes to raise an army of robots and intends to
stage a coup against the brutally oppressive military-industrial regime. Only the cyber-armoured
Tetsuya, taking on the mantle of legendary hero 'Casshern', stands any chance of defeating
Burai's mechanoid hordes and superhuman followers...
Despite the wonderfully dark, glossy-gloom imagery, the unhurried pace of early 'chapters'
in this film's storyline may test the patience of some viewers but, if you can get through
a multitude of establishing scenes in the first hour, what follows is a sequence of astonishingly
fast-moving comicbook super-hero fighting, and some startlingly tragic developments for
the characters and their relationships with others (on either side of the muddled conflict).
In the end, you will either love or hate the film's reliance on style over content for its
entertainment value. I thought it was vivid in its action sequences and admirable in its
painterly 'tech noir' tableaux. Casshern is a movie to be seen and heard, but not
necessarily understood in terms of plot, characters, or its mixed bag of genre themes.
It runs the gamut of unguarded human emotions from love and rage to expressions of regret
and forgiveness, though its sense of poignancy is determined largely by the individual
viewer's responses to the evocative digital-simulations of life, afterlife, rebirth and
death. In those terms, and in spite of its narrative flaws, Casshern is 'pure cinema'
par excellence, and it gets my vote for SF picture of the year, so far!
The second disc of special features in this DVD package is comprised of subtitled interview
clips, 11 deleted scenes with director's commentary, some 8mm footage - that includes
flashbacks to Tetsuya's childhood, plus a couple of trailers. There's not much in this
clutch of typical extras that's making an essential contribution to the film's project
or enhancing its production, but I think it is half amusing to try and figure out who's
who in the (un-captioned) video and publicity interviews - as a couple of the cast are
hard to recognise out of makeup and costume.