Put your eyeballs
back in their sockets; Casshern is just
a movie. Directed by music video director (and
husband of pop megastar Hikaru Utada) Kazuaki
Kiriya, Casshern is an adaptation of
the early-seventies anime Robot Hunter Casshan,
which was in turn adapted from a seventies Japanese
live-action television show. Casshern
is also a gonzo, balls-to-the-wall tech demo
that overshadowsor perhaps sidestepsthe
usual nuts-and-bolts requirements of narrative
filmmaking. While that might seem like a fatal
transgression, forgiveness for the film's shortcuts
will likely be easy, or simply a fleeting afterthought.
When you're subjected to visual crack, little
things like logic, character, and coherent storytelling
understandably fall by the wayside.
Taking place in
a war-ravaged future world, Casshern brings to the screen the usual sci-fi perils
complete with a cluttered, post-apocalyptic
landscape. A fifty-year war between the Great
Eastern Federation and Europa has left Mother
Earth a beaten-up wasteland. Mankind's vast
arsenal of technological weaponsbiological,
chemical, and nuclearis the culprit, but
the true blame goes to the dehumanized souls
pushing the buttons. Fittingly, many of mankind's
upper crust citizens suffer from a variety of
synthetically-produced postwar maladies. The
answer to their problems: more technology, specifically
the "neo cell" project from Professor
Azuma (Akira Terao). In layman's terms, the
crusty old coot is creating a big genetic swimming
pool to manufacture replacement body parts.
But things go
wrongnaturally. The neo cell project spawns
mutants who literally crawl out of genetic sludge
to claim their place in the brave new world.
The problem: man isn't too happy about that,
and puts them down with machine guns and other
assorted weaponry. The result: hurt feelings
and ill will, as the surviving mutants name
themselves "Neo Sapiens", and declare
war on their creators/oppressors. Led by the
white haired Burai (Toshiaki Karasawa), the
Neo Sapiens decide they must cleanse the earth
of human beings, and manufacture an army of
CG robots to do their bidding. But there is
a hope for mankind: Tetsuya Azuma (Yusuke Iseya),
son of Professor Azuma, and a soldier who perished
while fighting for the Great Eastern Federation.
Thanks to pop's awesome techo-nutrient bath,
Tetsuya gets to live again. With a suit of white
battle armor and newly acquired superhuman skills,
Tetsuya can now fight for mankind as Casshern!
Cue CG rumbles galore.
problem: it's not clear what Tetsuya is really
fighting for. The official ad copy says he's
fighting for mankind, but given that this is
a Japanese film, love is a major factor too.
Aside from his mother (Kanako Higuchi), who's
been kidnapped by Burai and the Neo Sapiens,
Tetsuya has Luna (Kumiko Asou), his true love
heartbroken after his death on the battlefield.
Even more, there are severe emotional, social,
political, and probably regional, technological,
and philosophical reasons for Tetsuya's struggle.
Basically, he wasn't too keen on returning from
the dead, because war was hell and being a good
soldier meant offing harmless innocents hunted
by the Great Eastern Federation under the guise
of "rooting out terrorism". The opponents
of the Federation's postwar cleanup include
seemingly peaceful individuals from a place
called Section 7, who are shoved around and
slaughtered like cattle by the "good guys"
of the Great Eastern Federation. The GEF puts
a nice face on it, but it's basically ethnic
cleansing that Tetsuya was a participant in.
Armed with that knowledge, perhaps rooting for
the Neo Sapiens isn't such a bad idea.
But Casshern never reaches that level of righteous pontificating.
On some level, everybody is right and everybody
is wrong. Mankind blows, but so do the Neo Sapiens
for going Skynet and siccing robot armies on
the Great Eastern Federation. Casshern fights
to protect the little people, but he also goes
postal over his missing mom, his father's opaque
motives (Dad created everything, and is not
shy about taking it away either), and finally
his own tortured existence. Director Kiriya
slams all his themes into the audience and then
some, and doesn't appear shy about using voiceover,
sudden monologuing, or copious montage to foist
his encyclopedia of tough existentialism on
the audience. All of the material is potent,
but also incredibly dense. Kiriya formerly worked
as a music video director, so getting messages
out in flashy, disjointed style is business
as usual for him. But in a two-hour and twenty-minute
movie, MTV-style jumps and lightning-quick interludes
only prove tiring, and ultimately unengaging.
who's ever watched anime may be used to such
dense philosophical storytellingand they
may like it too. The celebrated saga of Mobile
Suit Gundam is just as much about politics
and the terrors of war as it is about big robot
action, and the works of Hideki Anno (Neon
Genesis Evangelion, and the shojo series His and Her Circumstances) have carved
out their own particular niche for multi-level,
ultra-existential imagery at the expense of
actual story. Casshern seems to be cut
from the same cloth, and is so unapologetic
about its emotional and thematic excess that
it might as well be beating you over the head
with a giant plastic Pikachu.
So screw all the thinking;
just sit back and prepare to "geek out".
You can dissect the murky depths of Casshern until your frontal lobe bleeds, or you can simply
let your eyeballs do all the work. It hasn't
been mentioned much in this writing, but it was the first thing said: Casshern looks simply astounding. The set designs, lurid
cinematography, and impressive CG all add up
to one deliriously dazzling package that should
delight everyone who owns an X-Boxand
also a lot of people who don't. It's questionable
if everyone who catches Casshern will
dig through the glorious exterior to find its
densely-packed inner core, but it's all good
even if they don't. Chances are that the abundance
of top-notch eye candy will satiate even the
most ADD-afflicted. Casshern succeeds
on more than one levelespecially the superficial
one. (Kozo 2004)