(Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment)
Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya
Runtime: 135 minutes
Japanese with English subtitles
|This review first appeared on Emerald City|
I didn’t discover until afterwards that this remarkably beautiful CGI-fest was based on a 1973 Japanese animé of the same name. It explains quite a lot.|
Casshern is the eponymous hero of the film – the reanimated son of a scientist who has discovered ‘neo-cells’ (a bit like stem cells, but whizzier), the hoped-for basis of a revolutionary new spare-part surgery technology. Casshern’s father works for a monolithic state that has been at war with another monolithic state (shades of 1984 here) for a very long time. When Casshern is killed in the war and brought home for a hero’s funeral something weird simultaneously happens at his father’s research lab, when the neo-cells spontaneously organize themselves into living human beings and try to escape, only to be shot and killed by the understandably rattled authorities. Four of them do manage to escape, however, and manage to reach a kind of mountain fastness, conveniently equipped with endless hordes of robot soldiers.
Meanwhile, back at the lab, a tired and emotional Papa Casshern drops his son into the neo-cell ‘soup’, which not only miraculously reanimates him but endows him with remarkable energy – so much energy, in fact, that our papa has to build a special suit of armor to contain it, lest Casshern explode.
And it’s fortunate he does so, because the product of the neo-cells – calling themselves, in a fit of originality, Neo-humans – return with a grudge against humanity that Frankenstein’s monster might hesitate to endorse as proportional. Cue some remarkable fight scenes between the armoured, energized Casshern, and the unarmoured but very energetic (and backed with hordes of retro looking soldier robots) Neo-humans.
Unfortunately, it has taken more than 30 overblown minutes to get even this far, and the remarkable fight scenes are over far too soon. Imagine if an overexcited eight-year old had been given a few million dollars and no adult supervision to create a film that was bigger, brasher, faster, brighter and crazier than The Matrix then this brief sequence is what he might have come up with. Most of Casshern is not that film, sadly – which is a shame because it would have been substantially better if it was.
Once entire legions of retro looking soldier robots have been dispatched and the Neo-humans and Casshern have briefly squared off, things go downhill with a speed inversely proportional to that of the actual plot development in this film. I thought Jim Jarmusch’s recent Broken Flowers was a rather laboured film, one that filled entire minutes with stillness and silence, dragging out too many scenes until I wanted to scream, “All right! I get it! Can we please move on now, please?!” In a cultural reversal of no little irony, Casshern makes Broken Flowers look almost anime-esque in its devil-may-care, breakneck pace. And Broken Flowers also has a significant advantage over Casshern in that WE KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON! Despite the high production values, the remarkable similarity of the early fight scene to those of almost any average animé may set alarm bells ringing however (even the sound effects sound familiar!), and you soon realize that Casshern is, in actual fact, a 1973 Japanese animé, albeit one with 2005 special effects and inflation-adjusted budget. And it’s almost completely incomprehensible. Stuff happens, people watch it happen, then we watch them think about it for a bit. If it’s a particularly hectic section then someone might say something about what they thought about what just happened. Another thing will probably then happen - which you will have to rewind because you’ll assume you nodded off for a minute or so and missed the little clarifying link between the two things.
There are no little clarifying links between things.
I often don’t minds films being a bit slow and portentous; similarly, I can sympathize with films that are, frankly, a bit silly. What I can’t handle are films that are slow, portentous and silly as well. Which is Casshern.
In its favour, Casshern looks beautiful – remarkably beautiful; there’s a lot of CGI here. No, there’s more CGI than that – however much CGI you think there might be, double that, and add more CGI effects over the top of absolutely everything, giving some very striking filter and light effects, but also some flashes of metaphorical vision that you simply would not see in a Hollywood film, let alone a Hollywood science fiction film (which are frequently rooted in a very Hard SF mindset). Casshern is, initially at least, a blizzard of images and colors that will make you gasp. After a couple of hours, which will feel more like four, your gasps will have long since turned to sighs.
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