|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Kazuaki Kiriya, 2004, Japan, 142 mins, Subtitles
Cast: Yusuke Iseya, Kumiko Aso, Toshiaki Karasawa, Akira Terao
Sci-fi epic Casshern crunches together manga robots and soap opera family drama into an ultra-violent hybrid.
In an alternative retro-future world, scientist Professor Azuma struggles to culture stem cells that will heal his nation's soldiers and ageing leaders, while the country is locked in a violent war across Eurasia. But when his son joins the army and dies in battle, the Professor's efforts to revive him release an even greater force that threatens to engulf all of humanity.
Based on an animated television series from the 1970s, Casshern borrows from a sci-fi canon that includes Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner, but draws even more from videogames like Final Fantasy.
So much so that the fight sequences, a high speed animation-like blur of cgi and composited live action, feel rather like being beaten about the head and face with a Playstation2. Director and cinematographer Kazuaki Kiriya clearly finds it hard to resist running every scene though a different filter on the computer, making the movie a patchwork of monochrome, pastel, technicolor, grain, haze and mist. The technique veers from exhilarating to distracting.
But then the movie's whole aesthetic sensibility is aimed directly at its domestic audience: good guys are Japanese, bad guys are Chinese or Western, and mutant characters the 'neo-sapiens' look and dress exactly like a Japanese Pop rock group on a greatest hits tour. It's no surprise to learn that Kiriya was once a jobbing fashion photographer.
The film is certainly unafraid of big themes - the loss of loved ones; eugenics and ethnic cleansing; the stopped clocks of Hiroshima. There is an epic richness here, which the film uses to deliver a thesis about the futility of war and the brotherhood of mankind. Politically, Western audiences may see references to US neo-conservatism, but really, like so much of Japanese cinema, from Godzilla to Akira, the story is a parable about the Second World War.
Unfortunately just as the action threatens to become poignant, the film cannot trust the intelligence of its audience and laboriously re-underlines its themes one by one in the final ten minutes.
Explosive, sentimental, fantastical, ponderous - Casshern is all these things. But most of all, it is exceptionally, peculiarly, utterly Japanese, with all the seductive otherness that that implies. It is this otherness that will make it either appeal or repel. Converts looking for anime brought to life will love it.