Set in an alternate universe with an alternate history. The war, which began some time back in the 20th century and churned on without pause for fifty years, is over. The entire planet is now united by the triumph of the Eastern Federation over the forces of Europe. However, the Earth is now a poisoned landscape and most of the population is contaminated, with the human race rapidly dying out. Guerrilla fighters resist the oppressive Eastern Federation in Eurasia's outlying Zone Seven.
Professor Kotaro Azuma offers a solution: his "neo-cell" treatment will rejuvenate the human body and save the race. The Health Ministry turns him down but ageing military leaders and a multinational corporation support his research. The city is hit by a massive storm. A bolt of lightning hits the red fluid of the human tissue culture tank at the centre of Azuma's research. Out of this primordial fluid, a new race of humanoid mutants emerges. The mutant humanoids, lead by Brai, escape with the military in merciless pursuit.
Professor Azuma's son, Tetsuya, volunteers to fight the resistance but is killed in action. His body is taken to his father's lab in the hope that the experimental research can revive him. Tetsuya emerges from the culture tank, clad head-to-toe in form-fitting white armour. Now possessing incredible powers, Tetsuya goes head-to-head with Brai and his robot army. The old doctor, having witnessed Tetsuya's power, proclaims him the long-awaited Messiah of legend, 'Casshern' who has come to earth to bring peace to their lives.
This is the abbreviated plot of Casshern! There's a further half a dozen or so sub-plots. Including one about Testuya's mother being abducted by Brai, the inevitable romantic sub plot, one about a coup-d'etat, and lots of pseudo-religious/mythological ramblings and political shenanigans. But writer/director/cinematographer/editor Kazuaki Kiriya is more interested in creating a totally immersive experience rather than a work of clinical comprehension. At least, that's what I assume. If true then he has thoroughly succeeded. What Casshern lacks in clarity is counterbalanced by some simply stunning visuals. Kiriya has managed to produce the most authentic live action anime film to date.
Freely adapted from a popular early 70s anime TV series (also remade in the 90s), everything from character design, art direction, costume design, camera angles and the sheer exhilarating rush of beautiful imagery just screams cutting edge anime. The amount of detail in numerous scenes almost makes you wish this was screening at half the correct running speed just so you can really appreciate and soak up the sumptuous images. The sequences featuring acres and acres of marching robots killing all in their path are as chilling as they are exciting. But at more than two hours and twenty minutes (at least in the version I saw at last year's Frightfest festival in London), this is already long enough; too long to be honest. Evidence that perhaps you can have too much of a good thing.
The take home message, typically Japanese, that people need to get on with one another, and that love is good and war is bad isn't what you'd call sophisticated. Still, when everything looks just so damn gorgeous I'm hardly going to complain. Kiriya has plans for a heavily revised version for the impending DVD release. But to really appreciate Casshern for what it is you must see this on the big screen. Most remarkable of all is that Kiriya has managed to put what looks something like $25m worth of production value on screen for just $6m! An astonishing achievement. 7/10
Rob Dyer (February 2005)
interview with director Kazuaki Kiriya
Immortel (ad vitam)
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
a wide array of Japanese anime
A-Z of Film Reviews