February 21, 2008

DVD Review: Casshern

What? Let me say it again: What? I have watched Casshern a few times, and while it is enjoyable, I cannot say with anything close to absolute certainty that I know what happened. That said, it is a highly entertaining ride that, if you take everything at face value, will definitely fill the bill if you are looking for a gorgeous looking journey into the beyond. That said, I have to assume that the film would have made more sense had we gotten the original cut. You see, like many films of Asian origin, this Japanese creation was chopped up and had some of its scenes reordered while a good 24 minutes worth of footage was left on the editing room floor. Why do things like this happen? I have no idea. I get the feeling that whenever a film comes across the ocean, the US based distributor assumes that they need to put their own stamp on it, even it sacrifices the original to the digital gods. Unfortunately, I have not seen the original version to make any worthwhile comparison.

As the film opens, it is the end of a long war between the Asian territories and Europa. Europa had sent a horde of robots after the Asian territory, but were ultimately defeated. This left a demolished, but victorious Asia cheering their fortune, but still battling leftover terrorist groups for control of outlying areas, such as Zone Seven that plays prominently in the film.

Meanwhile, Dr. Azuma is working on a project to extend life through the use of a newly discovered cell type called Neo-Cells. As he works on his project, his son, Tetsuya, a bright college-age student with a bright future, leaves his family and girlfriend, Luna, behind to go fight in the war. It is an act that Azuma believes to be out of spite due to the falling out the two have.

Azuma continues his experiments as we are treated to gritty and washed out scenes of the warzone Tetsuya is in. Before long Azuma's experiments bring about some success in the form of a vat filled with grown limbs. Coinciding with this moment is the death of Tetsuya, who is brought back home for burial. Now here is where things start to get strange.

Lightning strikes the research compound activates the limbs that come together to form mutants which rise out of the liquid and rush out into the night. Azuma then has the bright idea to put his son in the liquid, and so, Casshern is born.

What follows is a war between Azuma's superiors, the terrorists, and the mutants. You see, the mutants have dubbed themselves Neo-Sapiens and have charged themselves with the goal of wiping out humanity. The only thing between them and their goals is Tetsuya/Casshern.

That is the big picture, anymore and I will only confuse you and myself as I try to sort through everything that the film is trying to say, if anything. I may be thinking there is more to it than there really is. To get everything out of it, it almost requires multiple viewings as well as a search for the full, uncut version.

If anything, the film takes itself a bit too seriously. This over-dramatic base makes many of the scenes that are meant to be emotionally resonant are left feeling cold and clinical. To that end, I felt as if I was being kept at a distance rather than being invited into the created world.

As distanced and confused as I was, there is no denying that the movie takes you on trip through some gorgeous designs. Casshern was shot almost exclusively in a digital backlot, not unlike 300 and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Some of the effects are not exactly up to snuff with what we are used too, they are done with such energy and conviction that it is hard not to allow them a little bit of slack in this department.

Casshern is very much like an anime film brought to life (the story did begin as a 35 episode anime series in the 1970's). The action is over the top, almost to the level of being cartoony, but in a good way, one of the best sequences involves Casshern taking on the robot armies of the Neo-Sapiens, it throws you right into the battle.

As directed, written, and edited by Kazuaki Kiriya, Casshern has a lyrical, almost poetic, flow. The camera swirls, the sets are bathed in shadows, music is constantly swelling, and we are thrust into the midst of this digital world. Even when I could not quite tell what was happening, it was a marvel to experience.

Audio/Video. The DreamWorks DVD looks and sounds very good. There is plenty of detail hidden in the shadows, the color separation was strong, and there were no defects that I could detect. The 5.1 audio track is also strong with nothing to complain about. The only thing I did not like were the ugly player-generated subtitles which could not be turned off. I would have much rather had burned in subs, or at least the ones that not player generated.

Extras. Nothing. Not even a trailer for the film. This is a film that would have benefitted greatly from some bonus material. Perhaps a making of featurette, or something on the effects or the acting? A commentary woulf have been most welcome, but there is nothing else here.

Bottomline. An interesting exercise in eyecandy with an anti-war message that at times becomes too wrapped up in its seriousness to become truly great. Nevertheless, Casshern is an entertaining film and a highly ambitious project that tries very hard to reach lofty goals.

Mildly Recommended.


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