Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From the Vault: Casshern

I own a ridiculous amount of movies. Some are good, some are bad, some are classics, and some are cult films. In an effort to jump start a more regular blogging pattern, I'm going to pull one off the shelf at random every other Wednesday, and review it. We're going to kick this off with a Japanese import. The film is called Casshern.

What is it?: Casshern is the live action adaptation of the 1973 Japanese animated series Neo-Human Casshern. It was among the first films to use a green screen back lot almost exclusively.

Where did I get it?: From the discount bin at Hollywood Video.

Why?: I had watched a couple of Protomen Youtube Music Videos using the film. It looked amazing. The next day I went to rent a movie, and there it was. It was like fate.

What is it about?: Casshern chronicles a world at the end of a 50 year war that has devastated the planet. The Eastern Federation defeated the robotic armies of Europa, but the price was high. The environment was laid to waste, and because of this, disease and famine run rampant throughout the world. Most of the leaders of the Eastern Federation are dying slowly from a multitude of maladies related to the high levels of contamination.

But there is still hope. A brilliant scientist named Dr. Azuma has discovered Neo-Cells. Found only in a certain ethnic group, who are essentially pure breed humans, Neo-Cells can become any body part, transplanted without fear of rejection... stop me if you've heard this before. The military quickly backs Dr. Azuma with copious amounts of funding. Soon, Dr. Azuma's work is flourishing, whole banks of organs and limbs have been constructed, and the testing is preparing to move into the next phase.

However, tragedy strikes Dr. Azuma's life. His son, Tetsuya, had been serving in the military fighting against the terrorists in Zone Seven. A trap left by the enemy killed Tetsuya, and the military was bringing the body back home. At the same time, disaster strikes Dr. Azuma's work. Lightning crashes into the lab, causing the banks of organs and limbs to reconstitute themselves into sapient beings. The military cracks down almost immediately, killing most of them. But a few of these "Neo-Sapiens" escape into the wilderness. His son dead, and his work in shambles, Dr. Azuma gets a crazy idea. He takes his son's corpse, and dips it into the goo left behind by the escaped Neo-Sapiens. Tetsuya is reborn, and like Steve Austin, he's better, stronger, faster than he was before. However, his new found strength is tearing his body apart, and he's forced into a special suit of armor designed by his fiance's father.

The Neo-Sapiens that escaped fight their way through the unforgiving wilderness, and find an abandoned castle. This castle was one of Europa's automated robot production facilities. With the robotic armies of Europa at their command, they swear vengeance upon the Eastern Federation. In one of their early attacks, they blast into the facility where Tetsuya is being kept. As Tetsuya fights them off, he realizes that he's the only one who can fight against these superhumans. As he begins to take the fight to the Neo-Sapians, he gets closer and closer to the ugly truth about Neo-Cells.

Why would you like it?: If you're a fan of action films, this is amazingly over the top. It really does a good job of capturing the action style of Japanese action animation. It looks fantastic. The artists had a field day with this one. They managed to make it look modern and filthy at the same time, which flies in the face of the typical "the future will be painted white" that gets put forward too often. The soundtrack is pretty sweet, including a theme song performed by Utada Hikaru.

Why it might not be for you: It's all in Japanese, with no dubbing. The story isn't as deep as it seems. Although that might simply be due to things being lost in translation, as I've heard that the subtitles are a butchery of the script. The ending is kind of baffling, too.

What the critics think: They don't. Casshern didn't see a mainstream American release, so it didn't get a metareview.

What I think: Casshern is a niche film. Japanophiles, action fanatics, and especially Japanophile action fanatics, will love this film. A more mainstream audience probably won't find this near as enjoyable. But I think it fills its niche well. I give it a 6/10.

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