A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 260 – Casshern (2004)

Casshern – November 15th, 2010

Going into this movie all I knew was that it was subtitled. Andy bought it on the strength of a preview he saw and claims to have watched “like, twenty times.” I had not seen said preview until after watching the movie, and while looking at it now I can see that it is indeed a pretty preview, full of action and CG and things that look like anime except in live action, I don’t know that I’d have bought this on the strength of the preview alone. It’s not that great a preview and it’s a lot more lucid than the actual movie is.

Let’s talk about unambiguous good things first, shall we? The visuals are amazing. This is one of the short list of movies made with almost completely CG sets and backgrounds. The end effect is sort of a melding of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (which was also almost all CG with live actors) and Mirrormask, as the backdrop of the world itself had a distinctly Dave McKean aesthetic to it in places. Sort of a distorted collage effect, with plenty of steampunkish machines thrown in for good measure. I am utterly sold on the visuals. I do have a bit of an issue with the sort of closed in studio feel I get from the actors sometimes, where it’s obvious they’re not in the space they’re shown in, but hopefully with time and more movies done this way, that won’t show so much.

The world of the movie is fairly decently shown. I was able to gather from the opening narrative and some of the later dialogue that there’s been this huge war going on for ages and ages (fifty years, if the name of the war is any indication) with both sides experiencing heavy losses. The Federation has ostensibly won, but at the cost of the health of their citizens, who now live in sickness under a fascist regime. The native people of an area between the two lands that were warring have been declared terrorists and inhuman, leading to continuous attacks on them. Our main characters are a family torn by the war. A doctor whose wife is ailing and who is desperate for a cure. His son, determined to do his duty and enlist in the army. His son’s fiance, left behind with her father, an armor designer. And then the son, Tetsuya, dies, and the movie takes an abrupt turn towards zombie town.

Yep. Zombies! Except not really, because no brains get eaten. It’s more an epic battle for vengeance and the resurrection of Tetsuya to be the hero of the people getting slaughtered and a whole lot of talk about love and fighting and war and the nature of humanity. Things happen. And then more things happen. And I’m absolutely certain that the things that happen all mean something, but often within the timeline of the movie they just. Happen. And then they stop happening and other things happen. It’s slightly more lucid than the end of Neon Genesis and significantly less whiny, but yeah. Things happen and then there’s a big explosion and I think it ends with everyone in paradise, which looks a lot like old home movies, but I’m not entirely certain.

See, Tetsuya’s father has been using “neo-cells” to try and regenerate organs and limbs and whatnot in vats and when Tetsuya’s body is brought home a giant stone lightning bolt falls from the sky into the vats and all the parts coalesce into resurrected zombie people, who kidnap Tetsuya’s ailing mother. Tetsuya comes back to life and gets a spiffy super suit and his fiance tells him she doesn’t like fighting. Or something. And then there’s lots of fighting. Because that’s part of the point of the movie. I think. Four of the zombie people escape and find the fortress of the old army that was attacking the Federation and they go to war again. And part of the problem I have here is scale. The movie takes forever to get going and then suddenly war! And I’m not clear where the area the supposed terrorists who aren’t really terrorists live in is in relation to everywhere else. It’s very messy.

Stylistically, this is a gorgeous movie, and it clearly has this big grand sweeping plot about humanity and violence begetting violence and so on and so forth. There’s stuff about selfishness and the things people do for love and the things people do for hate and the dangers of dehumanising others. And that’s great and all. And I do appreciate the anime-inspired visuals and I am curious about the source material this movie was based on. But when I think back on it, really what comes to mind is that there were zombies. And things happened.

November 15, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment


November 15, 2010


I saw the previews for this on the Internet long before it was available in the U.S. They were full of cool images and anime-inspired tableaux. When the movie eventually made it to my video store it got mediocre reviews from my customers, but those images stuck in my head and I still wanted to see the movie. Eventually my store closed, and I still hadn’t had a chance to see this film, so I grabbed it on clearance. Now at last I get a chance to see it in all its maddeningly non-sensical glory.

I’m not altogether sure exactly what I was expecting. I suppose I wanted a live-action anime with robots and sword fights and a super hero in a gleaming white suit. And on the surface all of those elements are here. But the plot of the movie is so strangely convoluted and the moral thrust of the action is so poorly defined that everything quickly becomes lost in a confusing mish-mash of scenes which must somehow be connected to each other. Amanda noted as we watched this that about 45 minutes of movie got lost between the original Japanese version and the subtitled version we watched tonight, and I wonder if maybe somewhere in that lost footage there was essential exposition which would have made things more clear. I suspect not, however.

The movie is very, very slow to get going. There are three quarters of an hour of stuff happening before the titular hero of the movie starts to kick any ass, then there’s a couple action scenes, then the movie gets all contemplative, then there’s a little more action and some stuff blows up, there’s a big scene where one character explains everything that happened in the beginning of the movie (and it still doesn’t make sense) and there’s a confrontation, and there’s a kind of end or beginning or something. And the credits roll. Seriously, this is a movie where a lot of things happened… just don’t ask me to explain it.

I’ll attempt to summarise what I’ve gleaned of the plot:

The setting is sometime in the future. There’s been a decades long war between the people of The Federation and Europa. The Endless onslaught of the Europan robot army has finally been defeated, but at great cost. Pollution, mutation, and the toxic fallout from the war mean that the people of The Federation are sick and dying. Dr. Kotaro Azuma thinks that he has found a cure for these ails in the genetic structure of a race of people living in a burnt out war-zone where he claims the original humans can still be found. He’s isolated “neo-cells” which are like uber-stem-cells and can regenerate ailing human tissue, but he can’t seem to get the technique to work. Meanwhile his son Tetsuya has signed up against his wishes to go to war against “terrorists” and his wife is dying. Dr. Kotaro works desperately to perfect neo-cells to save his wife, but just when it seems that he might be succeeding he gets word that his son has died in the war. Then things begin to get weird.

A strange meteor/lightning bolt comes out of the sky and lodges itself in the vats full of neo-cells. A whole bunch of shambling pale people rise up out of the vats and start stumbling around. The local military gets called in and starts killing all the vat people. Tetsuya’s corpse and his blind dying mother Midori arrive on the scene at roughly the same time. A few of the vat people survive the purge and drive off in Midori’s car, with her still inside it. Kotaro brings Tetsuya’s body into his lab and re-animates it in the neo-cell vats. Tetsuya’s fiance Luna and her father take his re-animated self back to Luna’s father’s lab because some experimental body armor he has been tinkering with is the only hope for his hyper-strengthened body. The vat people wander the radio-active wastes with Midori until they stumble upon an abandoned Europan castle/factory. They re-activate the factory, start building a robot army, and declare themselves neo-humans – declaring their intention to wipe out humanity for the crime of attacking them back at the vats.

That about covers the first forty five minutes of the movie. Oh, there’s plenty else going on too. There’s a smarmy guy who is funding Kotaro’s research. There’s a power struggle between the elderly ruler of the Federation and his son. Tetsuya has recurring visions about the atrocities he witnessed and was party to on the front lines. Midori wins over the neo-humans through her kindness during their escape. Luna likewise makes a lasting impression on one particular malformed neo-human that she tries to help during the purge. One of the neo-humans has a baby that dies during the flight to their now base (though where the baby came from is unclear.) Still, in general, all of this stuff makes sense in an origin story kind of way – it’s all about how Tetsuya becomes resurrected and put in a super-suit so that he can be Casshern and destroy robots and save humanity.

Only the movie doesn’t really go in that direction. Oh, there are hints of it, but Tetsuya doesn’t really do too good a job saving anybody and I think that the gist of the movie is that humanity as depicted is beyond saving. The only really sympathetic characters in the whole movie are the “terrorists” Tetsuya was at war with, and he doesn’t even do too good a job saving them. They’re being rounded up and slaughtered by soldiers from the Federation, and I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to say that this is because they are being harvested for the neo-cells that brought Tetsuya back in the first place.

I think I might have had a little more fun with the movie if it hadn’t been subtitled at all. It’s very pretty to look at, uses a lot of cool anime-style fighting moves, and has some fun fight scenes. I just think I might have been less confused if I’d been allowed to make up my own story based on the images on the screen. Indeed at times the subtitles were a little uneven and I pretty much had to do just that.

Perhaps the movie is just too ambitious. It doesn’t want to be a simple action movie, and it has a lot to say about war and pain and why we hurt each other so much (in a very melodramatic way of course) but it might be trying a little too hard. I’d be happier if there were a clear hero or victory maybe. Even when Tetsuya takes on the title of Casshern and decides, what the hell, to be a hero, he doesn’t do much heroing. His gleaming white Casshern suit becomes progressively more grimy and bloody as the movie goes on, and the moment I kept expecting where he’d be all re-energised and open a big can of whoop-ass on his foes never materialized. I suppose that it’s just not meant to be that kind of movie.

I feel drained and pummelled just having watched this movie. I’m a little curious to know what was in those missing forty minutes, but not really curious enough to watch the whole thing again. At some point in the movie my brain began to shut itself down in self defense because it simply couldn’t handle any more plot being thrown at it and I tried to be satisfied just looking at the pretty pictures. I think I understand most of what was going on most of the time, and the shocking big “reveal” at the end of the movie didn’t feel like any kind of revelation to me… but I also feel like I was playing catch-up a lot of the time. Just when I felt I understood what was going on more stuff would happen and I’d have to pause for a bit and try to integrate it into my mental picture of the movie – but the movie wouldn’t pause and I would have to catch up again. I’m tired now and need not to think any more.

November 15, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment