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Holy Cow! Someone's Actually Seen CASSHERN!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

We must get sent this link five times a day, despite having run it months ago here on the site. Yes... it’s a neat trailer. Many times, though, these live-action Asian SF films don’t live up to their trailers. I know many people who were let down by NATURAL CITY, let’s say, even though I thought it was a pretty damn good BLADE RUNNER riff, all things considered. As a result of having been burned in the past, I’m very curious to see if CASSHERN can live up to that amazing trailer, and today, we’ve got a report from someone who’s actually seen it...

I have been let down many times by Japanese trailers. Returner, Onmoyji 2, Dragon Head, Azumi…*I am not saying that I did not enjoy these films. But inclusion of too much 3rd reel material in the trailer, along with clips from most of not all of the major SFX shots, ended up pushing my expectations further than the final product could live up to.

So, after the Casshern trailer – certainly one of the greatest trailers I have ever seen – it was with both trepidation and expectation that I went into the cinema last Saturday. Luckily for me, my worries were unfounded – almost as soon as the movie started, I knew it was something special. I quickly settled down to enjoy one of those oh-so-rare truly incredible movie experiences.

The basic story is up, in English, at the Japanese A fifty year war has left the victorious Greater Eastern Federation in peril of extermination. Dr. Azuma’s “neo-cells” promise to save humanity, but when a bizarre fork of lightning strikes the military research facility the spare human pieces he is attempting to grow are turned into a race of mutant humans. The military quickly overreacts and guns down all but a few of them, who manage to escape and somehow end up taking Azuma’s sick wife, Midori, along with them.

Dr. Azuma’s son, Tetsuya, always at odds with his father, left for the battlefield a year previously. He is killed in action, and his body is delivered to the lab on the very day of the incident. The mutants having escaped, the Dr. takes his son and immerses him into the vat of “neo-cells,” bringing Tetsuya back to life – even as his ghost looks on and screams that he does not want to “go back to that side.”

However, the action of the cells is too much for Tetsuya’s body, and threatens to tear him apart from the inside. The father of Luna, Tetsuya’s fiancé, is working on prototype military power suits, and believing that one of his suits can prevent Testuya from being torn apart he takes charge of him.

Meanwhile, the mutants escape into the mountains. Just as it looks as though they will die from exposure, they stumble across an abandoned castle housing an army of robots. Kitting themselves out in some typically bizarre furs, armour, capes and weapons, the leader of the four remaining mutants declares that the humans who have created and then spurned them must all die.

This where you would think it settles into the mutant vs. reborn human, struggle-to-the-death standard super hero fare. And for a while, it almost does. But did I say “standard” just then? The scene in which Casshern first appears, and the following two fights, are so incredibly cool that any attempt to describe them just falls pathetically short. The trailer gives you a taster of the battle with a section of the robot army, but this is nothing compared to what they have held back for the real thing. Running up the sides of buildings, leaping high into the air, catching shells with his bare hands and throwing them back, just some truly insane stuff – and insanely intense, moving so quickly. With this halfway through the movie, I really wondered how they where going to top it for a finale.

But the answer is, they don’t. The movie continues to go deeper than just sword fights and things blowing up, and having had three of the best actions scenes I have ever seen it was probably just being greedy to expect them to beat them. There is a climactic final battle between the human army and the mutant’s robots, and Casshern plays a part in it – but by this point it is very much a story about him, his family and the characters around him, and why they are all fighting. There is no “super hero saves the world” here, no clean cut answer, and I think many people not accustomed to the Japanese style of story telling my well be uncomfortable with the fact that Casshern could ultimately be seen to fail in his role as a “super hero.”

There are other elements here that would not wash in a mainstream American movie, while we are on the subject. The fork of lightening that strikes the lab and causes the whole incident in the first place is never really explained. Very very little explanation is given as to why there is an abandoned castle full of robots out in the mountains. Japanese story telling does not require even major plot points to be spelled out, or even explained at all, and Japanese audiences don’t expect everything to be explained either. This is a trend you can see not just in cinema, but anime, novels and TV as well. Whether thus causes a problem for you or not is totally a personal thing.

The film is just loaded with style. First time movie director Kazuaki Kiriya is famous as a photographer and music video director, as well as being the husband of uber-popular singer Utada Hikaru (guess who sings the ending song). His background in visual arts shows though in almost every shot, especially as he is also director of photography and the editor of the film. One particularly memorable conversation scene has Tetsuya, now Casshern, and Luna in an argument, barely having escaped from the city. Each line comes first in angry voices, but these are then cut in between with a close up of their faces, and the same lines read more gently. At some points, the gentle version of the line is placed within a natural break in the Japanese for the angry version, and repeated lines from other characters also flashback to them. The emotions coursing though this scene were just incredible.

The SFX reminded me of the French Vidocq – there is no budget here to aim for Matrix esq. 100% realism (if that was achieved or not being a different topic of conversation), and so we have instead a highly stylised, yeah-so-it-is-not-real-but-it-looks-fantastic approach. That is not to say that the SFX are tacky or bad, in any way at all. In fact, they are the best I have seen in a Japanese film, for quality and sheer number, easily beating other offerings such as Dragon Head and Kitamura’s Alive.

Another big advantage Casshern has, especially over something like Alive, is originality. Just as in America, the aftermath of the first Matrix (I don’t think anyone is too keen to copy 2 or 3) has left a boot print across many Japanese action films; Returner and Alive being two prime examples. The main character finally powers up in Alive, and oh, he has just turned into Neo from the Matrix. Yeah yeah, so you can stop bullets and kick people across the room. Cassharn brings some new ideas to the table, most of them only even available because of the unique world in which it is set. During a brutal sword fight traces follow the blades and strange symbols flash across the screen as blows land. There are some incredible close-ups of character faces during the fighting, and in his first hand-to-hand fight you see a flash of Casshern’s skeleton with every blow that lands on him (people may be reminded of the Romeo Must Die bone cam, but that was taken from anime in the first place.)

The script was relatively free of the typical anime style clich̩s that I feared might litter it, and was actually good, with each of the cast giving very good performances. For anyone who might know something about the anime on which it is based Рwell, it appears to be quite loosely based on it. From what I have read about environment saving robots and whatever, none of that was seen here. There are a few nods to the anime Рthe helmet that he wears does appear, but it destroyed before he even gets a chance to put it on, and a dog with the same name as the infamous robot dog also makes an appearance. But this is no Hokuto no Ken live action cheesiness. It is doing its own thing, and doing it incredibly well.

I don’t know quite what I have conveyed with these comments, but I just loved this movie so much that it is hard to be objective. Watching this movie was the most emotional experience I have ever had in a cinema. However that may sound, I just simply cannot deny it, for it was not just a mental but also a physical reaction. I cried at 3 different points. Even now, four days later, I am just thinking about it all the time. For whatever reason, no other movie has ever affected me as strongly.

If people will get that same feeling with subtitles, I don’t know. Certainly some of the language usage may prove difficult to replicate. And I know it wouldn’t be the same on video. My own perception of what is truly cool is also honed toward the anime style, which is another reason why I loved this so much. Also, for all the straight up action, heavy Japanese elements leave it open to questions like “so what was the point of him becoming Casshern then?” and “why the hell did that just happen?” It is also quite long – 2 and a half hours – and, especially at the beginning, the story whips along without giving much time over to introducing the characters. But this is far more than just than your average super hero popcorn slug fest, and its final message is a truly deeply moving one. I found both artistry and beauty here, and if it can sustain 2nd and subsequent viewings (I am going again on Thursday) then it may well become my favourite movie ever.

You have to see this film, whatever you may finally think about it, and in whatever form. You just have to see this film.

Sounds very cool. Thanks for sending in such a detailed report. Should give people a lot to discuss. Here’s another quick review of it, as well...

Hey Harry

Im new to the site and haven't submited yet.If you decided to post it...just call me Togusa

I'm working in Tokyo and upon completeing a project last month Sony gave me and my wife tickets to the premire of Casshern on Monday. Doubt anyone has seen this film yet so I thought I'd send over my two cents of what I thought about this film.

First reading the pamphlet that they were handing out at the premire I read that they effects supervisor was someone who was worked on "gadget" (not inspector gadget) a film i liked but always that the cgi just didn't fit right in. So I was apprehensive about the effects....well I was completely blown away...the effect are can be much compared the "The Matrix"...but it wasn't the action shots that made this film wonderful to was that the numerous panning out shots of various scenes. This first time director defintely has a firm grasp on the compostion of a film. This makes it difficult to ignore the background and treat it as merely empty space which is quite unique is sci-fi films. Many times it felt like watching an art film.

The story in many ways is seemed quite standard as sci-fi goes. Not knowing anything about the story going in...I though the running theme at the begining was going to be ulitmate redemption for humantiy. However as the film progessed it seemed to focus on the relationships between the vairous characters and how big a role each relationship can play in the ultimate fate of humanity. The way Casshern interacts with his finance and the leader of the mutant humans...forget his name..ends up affecting everyone in the film. I have seen Yusuke Iseya in other films before and I must say for a first time director Kazuaki Kiriya (who attended the premire with his hot songstress wife Utada Hikaru who is releasing an english language cd in the us later this year....check her out!!) he really got superb performances out of his actors.

Overall I walked away from the film in awe...i wasn't expecting too much from a first time director and free tickets from the boss. But I believe this is one guy that Hollywood will come courting in the future much the same way that John Woo and Terence Chang from HK were. I hope when this film is licensed over in the us. The translation is given much detail to. I found the dialogue beatuiful and engaging. Such as when Casshern is about to fight the leader of the mutant humans...the interaction between the two just get you pumped know that some good ass kicking is about to happen.

I'll try an submit couple of more japanese movies and hope to keep ya updated on the japanese film scene here in Tokyo...but this year is going to kick ass..

sayonara harry-san...

Thanks, both of you, and let’s see when we’ll get a glimpse of this one in America...

"Moriarty" out.

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