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Casshern - sky full of warplanes

Casshern R2 DVD package

Casshern - war machine advances

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Casshern
cast: Yusuke Iseya, Kumiko Aso, Akira Terao, Kanako Higuchi, and Fumiyo Kohinata

director: Kazuaki Kiriya

125 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
As a beguiling retro-future, packed to the margins with Verne-inspired sky-ships, primitive but powerful looking machinery, and clustered elements of genre-movie set design work (particularly the baroque architecture of Lang's classic Metropolis), the exceedingly cinematic artistry of Casshern blends its Japanese sci-fi political melodrama with the iconography of heroic fantasy adventure. First-time director Kazuaki Kiriya draws upon manga comics' influences and the animated TV series Shinzo ningen casshern (1973), known in the west as Robot Hunter, fuses his fashionable 'art house' pretensions to blatant pop/ rock-video sensibilities, and eagerly polishes this big-screen debut's frequently vigorous live action scenes with gorgeous cinematography and much visually striking CGI.

Indeed, the film's prominent colour schema flits dazzlingly between harshly urban 'monochrome', sumptuous tinted flashbacks and the positively lurid primaries of a military-industrial 'present' where the imaginative backstory offers us a splendid celebration of alternative history SF, comparable to Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, yet without that adventure's rampant optimism.

Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya) is the angry young man that defies his upper-class parents' wishes and goes off to war, leaving behind luminous beauty Luna (Kumiko Aso). When Tetsuya is killed on the frontline, he's re-animated (while his 'ghost' hovers in the background) by the well-meaning yet morally corruptible Prof Azuma (Akira Terao), using an untested experimental biotech. This 'neo-cell' soup also gives rise to a band of freaky Frankenstein-esque mutants led, and driven to maniacal vengeance, by the ranting hysteria of chief bad guy Burai (Toshiaki Karasawa), who promptly escapes to raise an army of robots and intends to stage a coup against the brutally oppressive military-industrial regime. Only the cyber-armoured Tetsuya, taking on the mantle of legendary hero 'Casshern', stands any chance of defeating Burai's mechanoid hordes and superhuman followers...

Despite the wonderfully dark, glossy-gloom imagery, the unhurried pace of early 'chapters' in this film's storyline may test the patience of some viewers but, if you can get through a multitude of establishing scenes in the first hour, what follows is a sequence of astonishingly fast-moving comicbook super-hero fighting, and some startlingly tragic developments for the characters and their relationships with others (on either side of the muddled conflict). In the end, you will either love or hate the film's reliance on style over content for its entertainment value. I thought it was vivid in its action sequences and admirable in its painterly 'tech noir' tableaux. Casshern is a movie to be seen and heard, but not necessarily understood in terms of plot, characters, or its mixed bag of genre themes. It runs the gamut of unguarded human emotions from love and rage to expressions of regret and forgiveness, though its sense of poignancy is determined largely by the individual viewer's responses to the evocative digital-simulations of life, afterlife, rebirth and death. In those terms, and in spite of its narrative flaws, Casshern is 'pure cinema' par excellence, and it gets my vote for SF picture of the year, so far!

The second disc of special features in this DVD package is comprised of subtitled interview clips, 11 deleted scenes with director's commentary, some 8mm footage - that includes flashbacks to Tetsuya's childhood, plus a couple of trailers. There's not much in this clutch of typical extras that's making an essential contribution to the film's project or enhancing its production, but I think it is half amusing to try and figure out who's who in the (un-captioned) video and publicity interviews - as a couple of the cast are hard to recognise out of makeup and costume.
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