CASSHERN (2004) is loosely based on the Japanese anime in the 1970's called "Casshan Robot fighter" which was in turn adapted into the live-action TV series. Highly stylized and visually stunning, "CASSHERN" gives you that first impression that it is a drag-out robot smashing action film as its trailer suggests. However, there is a lot more to this film than first meets the eye. Kazuaki Kiriya’s film contains strong philosophical themes and has a very powerful anti-war message that uses a post-apocalyptic world, elements from science fiction and anime sensibilities as its backdrop.
An alternate world with an alternate history. The world is divided between two opposing alliances. After fifty years of bitter warfare, the Greater Eastern Federation triumphs over the Europan forces and gains control over the Eurasian continent. However, this is a hollow victory. Years of chemical, biological and nuclear war have ravaged the land; draining its resources and left an exhausted population at the mercy of every pestilence and newly-mutated disease. With the war ravaged world, hope dwindles for humanity's future.
Remaining leaders debate over the chances of finding some way to stave off the seemingly-inevitable decline of civilization. One man comes forward with a possible solution. Dr. Azuma (Akira Terao) is a geneticist who proposes a "neo-cell" treatment that can rejuvenate the body and regenerate humankind. He's driven in his studies by a desire to save his beloved wife, Midori (Kanako Higuchi), from the ravages of a pollution-caused rare disease. He appeals for funding to the government but the selfish politicians in the Health division rejects his proposals, fearing that the new technology may threaten their entrenched powers.
However, a sinister faction in the powerful military makes an offer to Dr. Azuma to provide the financial support he needs to further his research. They utilize the neo-cell research to re-generate new body parts. When an incident occurs in the lab that sends the Professor's "neo-cell" cloning experiment haywire, a race of mutant human beings (Shinzo Ningen or Neo-Sapiens) led by Burai (Toshiaki Karasawa) is unleashed upon the world. Instead of being the savior of mankind, the Professor's miraculous technology looks set to threaten its very existence. But there may be hope for mankind as of yet, Azuma’s son, Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya) has been bathed in the regenerating energies of the neo-cell experiment and dons a white suit that enhances his natural human attributes, far beyond the capabilities of any man…
The premise of the film is the horror of war. It is basically a 140 minute anti-war movie. The movie also gives powerful commentary about man’s misuse of his resources and intelligence, the pride of man that keeps him from contentment and that man always seeks to use new discoveries to advance his dominance rather than sharing such knowledge to aid and co-exist with others. In the world of “Casshern”, there will always be a war for fighting. The film is full of mythic atmosphere that may cause some to become a little alienated. The film is deep with its philosophical storytelling as with the Japanese anime-atmosphere made popular by Oshii, the creator of “Ghost in the Shell”. As with most anime, the film has its own share of philosophical storytelling; there are a lot of political, emotional, social, philosophical reasons for Tetsuya's struggle. He is very reluctant to fight again, being an ex-soldier. One might think that his goals are simple, that defending man's existence is his main goal. This is a Japanese film, so Tetsuya partly fights for something personal; Love and redemption.
There is a lot of content in “Casshern“. This fact may be good and bad. Perhaps I read too much between the lines, but its impact and message is too strong to ignore. The LAST thing this film is an action film. The film relies on provoking emotional responses from its characters; we see the horrors of war and what needs to be done to change it. The loss of life plays a major part in a war, and the film spares nothing to bring this into exposition. “Casshern“ brings the motivations behind such wars, and it is truly sad to say that most of it stems from pure human faults and indecisions; that some come from greed and fear.
Luna (Kumiko Aso, Kairo) and Midori play important parts in its storyline. They represent the hope and goodness that mankind should strive for. I do think director Kiriya had purposely made its hope in the body of women, it is just because women are often more emotional which in turns gives a balance to the men around them. I suppose it is way for Kiriya to express that oftentimes, ‘listening’ is the key to mankind’s salvation, unity is the only way to promote peace and co-existence. Prof. Azuma’s character embodies the pride and obsession for a goal, regardless whether it could only benefit one, and not the majority. Naito as well a good number of the authority figures embody the potential for corruption within a society. Burai and his cohorts represent the anger and hatred that may arise from being condemned that is brought upon by being misunderstood. The mystery and surprising twist as to what and who are the “Neo-Sapiens” may cause some to scratch their heads, but its groundwork lies within the old town and the lightning bolt.
Now with its strong messages aside, “Casshern” is a visual and aural feast for its audience. Try keeping your eyes in its sockets, it is only a movie. It can be argued that the CGI effects may have been the inspiration for “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”. The visuals seem necessary to distract us from all the philosophy and the whole oedipal complex that is played heavily in the film. It would be very easy to ignore the messages that the film tries to bring into bear, seeing as parts of it may look rather superficial. The set designs have both the ancient and advance look, it was really cool to see aircraft that use propellers and yet, so advance in weaponry. The robots themselves prove to have different roles in war; they are cool but I was a little disappointed that the robots had no air support, but they do have a very BIG model that makes the opposing human armies pause. The fights between Tetsuya and Burai is technically sound. The encounters between Runa (Ei Morisako) and Barashin (Jun Kaname) have that usual elaborate stylized fight that has proven to be the signature of Asian action films.
Once, Tetsuya starts smashing robots, with his one-on-one duels, the film takes a different tone; which may make some viewers think that the film is all about slugfests and decide to just take notice that “CASSHERN” looks simply ASTOUNDING. The set designs, lurid cinematography and the CGI are all packaged in one cool film that is sure to be awe-inspiring. The top-notch eye-candy is sure to satisfy. Still, viewers would do well to remember that the film was never meant as a sci-fi action movie but rather a thematic movie experience. Those who are looking for a fast-paced robot-smashing good time would be very disappointed. I have seen other reviewers compare the movie to “The Matrix” which has no merit at all.
Despite the film’s many attributes, I would not be surprised if some would think that it is very superficial (some scenes do look like it is a music video) and some scenes may feel a little too sentimental. It is a little slower-paced than your usual Japanese sci-fi film so be prepared to read between the lines. Once you get over the fact that this is not an action film, viewers will appreciate the message that Casshern delivers. If you accept this film for what it is, you will be treated to an excellent piece of film-making. “Casshern” is definitely worth a watch, for CGI fans and even for those who aren't. This film takes its time setting things up so patience and attention is a must!
Highly Recommended! [4 Stars]
I own the region-3 release and I've seen the original region-2 Japanese release which both utilized the same impressive transfer. It is very likely that the U.S. release will look the same. However, the U.S. release loses of lot of the film’s spirit because it has been trimmed down to 117 minutes and has the audacity to call it a “director‘s cut“, whereas the real uncut director’s edition is 142 minutes.
VIDEO/AUDIO: ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN 2.40 RATIO. The picture is very nice and is intentionally enhanced to look almost like a `painting'. Colors are bright and radiant, the contrast is sharp with very solid blacks. The Japanese 5.1 Dolby EX/6.1 DTS-ES is very powerful. English subs are excellent.
In a world with an alternate history, a great war finally comes to an end leaving the earth diseased and polluted. The geneticist Dr. Azuma vies for support from the government for his neo-cell treatment that he claims can rejuvenate the body and regenerate humankind. The government leaders, guarding their own deeply entrenched powers, turn down the professor. Driven to complete his work, Dr. Azuma accepts a secret offer from a sinister faction of the powerful military. After an incident occurs in Dr. Azuma's lab, a race of mutant humans known as the Shinzo Ningen are unleashed upon the world. Now only the warrior known as Casshern, reincarnated with an invincible body, stands between the Shinzo Ningen and a world on the brink of annihilation.
Casshern is a 2004 Japanese tokusatsu film adaptation of the anime series of the same name. It was written and directed by Kazuaki Kiriya. It stars Yusuke Iseya as Tetsuya Azuma/Casshern, Kumiko Aso as Luna Kozuki, Toshiaki Karasawa as Burai, Mayumi Sada as Saguree, and Jun Kaname as Barashin.