What would you get if you combined the “art-house film disguised as an action film” feel of Ang Lee’s Hulk, with the sometimes headache inducing flash of the Speed Racer movie, with the style and look of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Well….. probably not a very good movie. And Casshern is not a good movie by any means, but it’s a very interesting film, and definitely deserves to be watched at least once.
Casshern is based off a 1973 anime. I really cannot compare how well the film follows its source, since I have yet to see the original anime myself, but from what I’ve read, it seems to have taken at least a few drastic liberties with it. There was also a reboot of the series in 2008 titled Casshern Sins, which I’ve seen, and as a non-anime fan can recommend. Though it is extremely depressing at times. The character himself has apparently had a lasting legacy in Japan. For gamers out there, Casshern was a large inspiration on Megaman, as well as much more recently the main inspiration for the game Vanquish. There are likely plenty of other games that have take inspiration from Casshern, but this is a movie review, so enough with the little history lesson. Let’s get to the movie.
Casshern centers on Tetsuya Azuma, the son of a scientist who is researching something called Neo-Cells, which apparently can cure diseases. Tsuya’s father fails to have the Neo-Cells prepared in the time the government gave him, and then Tetsuya is killed in battle after enlisting in the army……..and then solid bolt of lightning hits the lab…….for some reason, which ressurects the dead subjects that Tetsuya’s father was testing the Neo-Cells on….I think…..and…..ow my brain hurts. Okay, the film is convoluted and confused beyond reason. I had no idea what was going on at all my first viewing of the film, and the second barely helped. The problem is the film does not explain itself, important questions are either left unanswered or so poorly answered they might as well not have been. Now it’s not that the film doesn’t have time to answer the question, it has time to spare. The problem this film has, is that instead of using that time to tell a story, it uses a good chunk of it to shove its themes and messages down our throats over and over again. Yes movie, we get it, hate is bad and you don’t like war, you don’t have to remind us every 15 minutes with a speech. This poorly handled script is by far the biggest downfall of the movie, turning what could have been an interesting and unique Sci-Fi film into a complete and total pretentious mess.
The film’s other downfall comes, ironically, from its biggest strength. The style of Casshern is astounding, unique, and jarring. While the film is undeniabley gorgeous, it can never really settle on one unifying look. The film’s color pallet ranges from vibrant and colorful, to completely black and white. The effect, while interesting, turns a film that’s already a mess on the narrative level into a visual mess as well. But when the style works it lends itself to some truly beautiful and unique moments, that are easily the highlight of the film.
Another problem stemming from a strength is the jarring shifts in tone. The film spends most of its time giving speeches or showing off the director’s eye for gorgeous visuals, so it’s truly shocking when the film suddenly breaks into an over the top and cartoonish (and completely AWESOME) fight scene.
Though, through all its flaws, there are a lot of genuinely touching and exciting moments within the film. There are A LOT of problems for sure, but there also seems to be a lot of care and ambition in this film. It really does seem like the creators wanted to make something special and unique, and they did for sure……a little too well perhaps, but they did, perhaps a bit too well. Other high points include the actors, who while not phenominal or award caliber, do their job and add a lot more to the film than they detract. The soundtrack is also marvelous, and very ecclectic, ranging from some hardcore guitar riffs, to gentle or even inspiring tracks. Although the tracks do sometimes get a bit repetitive.
Overall, through its many many faults, I still kind of enjoyed Casshern. There’s a definite heart to it, and honestly I’d take a bad film that tried over a decent film that plays it safe any day of the week. Ultimately, the film is a failure on most accounts, but it’s an interesting film that is really worth a watch if you can track it down. Love it, hate it, it’s a unique film that has a lot of things to say……..a lot of very obvious things…..that it says over and over…….Also if you can make ANY sense out of the ending, I’d love to hear it because I had no clue.