For those not familiar with the anime series “Cashan, The Robot Hunter” which “Casshern” is based on, this movie may be a tiny bit confusing. Additionally, there is a lot of text to read with subtitles racing by (as there is only a Japanese audio track) and on top of that, the subtitles are not beneath but across the film which can be distracting and since they are burnt in, you can’t switch them off either. Also, cutting the movie by 24 minutes for Region 1 DVD release may have been a marketing decision, somehow I am not so sure it was the right one. Enough of these technicalities and on to the story then!
In director Kazuaki Kiriya’s debut effort we meet “Casshern”, a young man killed in war and risen from the dead by supernatural powers, reincarnated to fight against evil – but let’s rewind a bit.
This young man, Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya), living in a post-apocalyptic society, ruled by military dictatorship where the killing still continues in Zone 7 where all the terrorists are (and coincidentally also the ones who have the “neo-cell”). The land has been destroyed and only the city remains intact, offering safety and a life without radiation poisoning and toxic pollution in general. War has taken its toll on humanity and genetic defects are commonplace, including Tetsuya’s mother who is suffering from a degenerative disease that renders her blind and eventually will kill her.
In the beginning of the movie, we see the Azuma family lined up for a picture and Tetsuya decides to march off and go to war just to spite his father Dr. Azuma (Akira Terao), who is obsessed to find a cure for his dying wife Midori (Kanako Higuchi). The Fifty Years War has basically come to an end but the fight against terrorists continues, as part of the ethnic cleansing the government pursues mercilessly. The world is dying as a consequence of the war and the biological hazards and chemical pollutions let alone the radioactive fallout. Humanity’s outlook is bleak and Dr. Azuma’s discovery of “neo-cells” seems to offer salvation and on top of all that – everlasting life. These cells can grow back limbs and attach themselves to any tissue. Dr. Azuma is more interested in finding a cure for his wife though than any military appliance his discovery may have, the military on the other hand and its chiefs think otherwise and some even want it for their personal wellbeing as they, too, are slowly dying.
So Tetsuya goes off to war to get himself get killed and then is shipped back in a coffin to his father, who is now working for the military so he can continue his research. Coincidentally, upon Tetsuya’s death, a huge lightning bolt strikes the laboratory and the pool of limbs with which Azuma experiments, suddenly comes to life and from it emerges a new race of neo-sapiens, the super humans who will vow to destroy all humans. Why? Because right after being “born” they are hunted down by humans and some are killed, some escape, of course.
Dr. Azuma, witty as he is, takes his dead son’s body and puts him in the “neo life sauce” from whence the neo-sapiens previously had crawled into existence and sure enough, Tetsuya is reborn but, yes, but the government hunts these “mutants” down and kills them, so Tetsuya has to stay hidden in order to survive, just as the neo-sapiens escape into Zone 7 and build their small all annihilating robot army there, biding their time.
Tetsuya’s girl friend Luna (Kumiko Aso) and her father Dr. Kozuki (Fumiyo Kohinata), an armor specialist, take it upon them to hide Tetsuya and keep him safe until his body is fully healed. Dr. Kozuki also creates an armored suit for Tetsuya with which he not only shall look spiffy but also kick arse and move as fast as lightning while doing so, all in best anime style. It does not take long for Tetsuya to put his newly acquired powers to a test as the leader of neo-sapiens, Burai (Toshiaki Karasawa), unleashes a massive robot army upon the city and sends out agents to search and pick up valuable scientists, among which Dr. Kozuki is one to resist, as futile as it is, meeting his untimely end, killed by a neo-sapien badass chick whose name now eludes me, she will die later anyway.
From here on forth the action begins and Testuya finds himself fighting robots and neo-sapiens and the government and his father and the world and of course loses everything and then some. Without detailing every step of the ensuing fights, the main themes woven into this morality play ultimately weigh it down as we see actors gaze into distance far too long (maybe it’s for the better that this version has 24 minutes cut from it) and the seemingly incoherent use of various pieces of music of different genres as we pass through the different phases of the film, war, destruction, creation, death, salvation, reincarnation are all a bit heavy on the audio-visual cerebral “stomach”. Once the fighting starts, the soundtrack really kicks in and you may actually start to get the feeling of watching a music video here and then.
Do not expect too much from the acting, although the lead roles deliver a decent enough performance. Where this film shines, is in its visuals, completely shot on digital film (with a Sony HDW-F900) in front of green screens with a budget of around 46$ million dollars. “Casshern” simply looks amazing. Does it have more than just its looks? See for yourself. Dystopia awaits!