Casshern (2004)
By: Trist Jones on May 22, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Rialto (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 145 minutes
The Movie
Director: Kazuaki Kiriya
Starring: Iseya Yusukem, Asou Kumiko, Terao Akira, Higuchi Kanako, Kohinata Fumiyo, Nishijima Hidetoshi
Screenplay: Kazuaki Kiriya
Country: Japan
Anime has quickly become one of the most influential styles of animation and source of material for feature films of recent history. The problem is, when so much of it floods the market, you get an overabundance of garbage and the great stuff falls into obscurity (if it isn't immediately dubbed a classic). The other problem is that because anime is so stylistically recognisable and relatively unique in terms of presentation, films that take elements from it rarely pull it off. The two just don't seem to gel; Anime and live action. The Matrix was clearly inspired by anime, but the sequences that tried to emulate it ended up looking terrible or like something else entirely. The live action Akira just faded away into development hell. Casshern however, based on the 70's anime Casshan Robot Hunter, manages to successfully translate those signature anime moments to live action celluloid (even if it fails in it's translation of the actual source material).

Casshern is set in a retro-future, similar to Metropolis and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, where the world is reeling from war and choking on pollution. Geneticist Kotaro Azuma proposes the development of 'neo-cells'; cells that regenerate any tissue it's programmed to (similar, but more effective than cloning). His research stems from the fact that his wife is dying from an infection and his son has made the decision to fight in the war. During a freak lightning storm, the neo-cells begin forming actual people, instead of singular organs or limbs, and these 'people' try to escape. The government orders the immediate extermination of these people, and during their escape from persecution, Azuma's son Tetsuya is brought home from the war… killed in action. Azuma puts his son in the neo-cell pool, effectively resurrecting him as a Captain America style super-human. The surviving neo-people find sanctuary in an old fortress, which they claim for themselves, along with the inactive robot army hidden within, and declare war on the world which hates them. All the while, the born-again Tetsuya is given a special suit of armour designed specifically for super-soldiers to enhance and control their physical power (and prevent them from inadvertently tearing themselves apart). The film itself goes into far more detail than this, but to really go into things you'd be looking at a review longer than the Hunger Collection in it's entirety. This film is epic!

Its huge scale is also, unfortunately, it's greatest folly. For everything it does so well, Casshern makes the mistake many claim Peter Jackson's King Kong did. It becomes overly and unnecessarily long. Though unlike Kong, where much of the extra time came from character development, Casshern indulges in it's visuals (which are admittedly incredible). Shots that either go on for too long or don't really need to be there (or both), while very nice to look at, don't really do much for the story itself, which feels enormously stretched given the source material. At heart, the animated series was a simple story of Good vs Evil/Man vs Technology with a bit of human social analysis thrown in. Casshern becomes an incredibly in depth statement about war, politics, genetics and family. I'll have to admit, the anti-war sentiments were probably championed a little too much here.

While it might not adhere too much to the story of the original material, the visual style of the film (not the design) is exactly what an anime-cum-live-action piece should be. The accentuation of movements, camera angles, editing, special effects, everything about this film screams anime, but it looks so much better because it's real (well… you know what I mean). The fights are all fantastic to watch, particularly between Tetsuya and the second villain. There's a battle that takes place in a ruined city between Tetsuya and an army of classically styled Killbots that's absolutely spectacular, leaving any fight The Matrix could muster for dead and even managing to make use of instantly recognisable and unquestionably classic sound effects that would otherwise likely never be heard in a live action film.

For the fans of the original animated series, there are a few nods here and there, such as the classic Casshan helmet sitting in a cabinet amidst other helmets, and Friender (Casshan's robo-dog companion) sans any real coolness he once had. The overall design of the film deviates just enough from the source material to make a stand on its own, but still manages to capture the key elements of the classic designs to make it recognisable to fans. Its source to screen translation is visually akin to the X-Men franchise.
Visually astonishing. Sure you can tell that it's probably more effects laden than a Star Wars prequel, but it's that good that you buy into it immediately. Every detail can be made out on a flawless transfer. The film's actual presentation is 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, so it looks great on those massive widescreens (but really it looks amazing no matter what).
Unfortunately a release like this should really come in surround sound. The 2.0 stereo really doesn't cut the mustard on a film like this, and this is what shits me about these Rialto Collection DVD's. There are just about always releases of the films in this collection in other countries that hold far more extras and options, and why a label seeking to make itself somewhat of an 'elitist' in terms of quality titles doesn't include said material is beyond me. The UK and HK releases have the works, including 5.1 and DTS sound options. However if stereo suits you pay no attention to anything I just said. The sound itself is still extremely crisp, I just pined for surround the whole time.
Extra Features
My rant above applies here. The Rialto Collection version of this has nothing. A trailer, and English subtitles (which are burnt in anyway). Whootie-Woo. The UK version of Casshern is two discs and absolutely choc-o-block full of extras. If you've seen it and enjoyed it enough to buy it, just go the extra mile and get it from the UK. However if, as I mentioned with the sound options, extras don't do anything for you, this release is probably perfect for you.
The Verdict
It took me two viewings to come to a proper decision about it, but I really enjoyed Casshern. Initially it rubbed off as being overly dramatic and insanely longwinded, but the awesomeness of the spectacular effects sequences and general aesthetics made me want to watch it again, and in doing so made me pay far more attention to what was actually going on throughout the story. The first viewing was a little confusing, but when it's all in place come the ending, and you actually know the roads the film takes, the second viewing is definitely far more involving. The action sequences are amazing to watch, and those who dig films that take unique approaches to their look and flow will definitely get a kick out of Casshern. Once again, it is a little arduous in terms of length, so set aside a bit of time when you can concentrate on this because when people and robots aren't engaged in combat, it really does demand attentive viewing.

Unfortunately a great film is spoilt once again by an overall crap DVD package (if you're after extras of course). The film is worth 4 and a half stars, but the DVD is scraping a 1. A film like this needs extras on its DVD!
Movie Score
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