Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Loosely based on Tatsunoko Pro's 1973 anime (it's 1993 OVA was released in the US under the name Casshan the Robot Hunter), Kazuaki Kiriya's 2004 live-action re-envisioning is a clanking behemoth of a movie, made with big ambitions and little skill.
In the future, after a fierce war in which an alliance of eastern nations laid waste to Europe's robot armies, Tetsuya, the hot-blooded son of an influential scientist, disobeys his father and joins the army to fight a (different) war. Left dead after making a mistake that any number of Vietnam War movies could have told him was stupid, his soul returns to where his father is experimenting with "neo cells," artificial human cells that can be used to grow entirely new limbs and organs. There he witnesses the arrival of his own corpse, and when a serendipitous extraterrestrial metal lightning-bolt-thing lands smack in a pool of neo-cell ooze, his father dips him into it, bringing him back from the dead. This is no happy reunion, however. Tetsuya isn't pleased to be resurrected, and the accident has left him with a superhuman strength that could tear his body apart if not kept in check. It also fused the spare human parts (which apparently included spare heads) into similarly superhuman "Neo Sapiens," who soon take to wearing cutting-edge fashions and trying to destroy humanity. And quite naturally, it is up to Tetsuya, now called Casshern, and his nifty exo-skeleton-suit to save the world.
Kiriya obviously soaked up the visual influences of dystopian science-fiction films like Bladerunner and Metropolis (Fritz Lang, not Rintaro) without the qualities that made them great ever making the least impression on him. His desire to remake the original Casshern for a new generation is explicit in the angst and grit he packs into the movie, but his ambitions simply cannot withstand the sloppiness with which they are executed. Political wrangling, racism and ethnic cleansing are casually tossed in, as if their mere presence would be enough to make the film thoughtful or relevant. His convoluted script has holes big enough to park robot armies in (why did the Europeans leave their robot armies lying around for the Neo Sapiens to commandeer?). The dialogue is painfully cheesy, the plot lurches unpredictably from one occurrence to the next, barely bothering to collect itself into a coherent whole, and all the while inexplicable occurrences proliferate like viagrafied rabbits. Long before the film stumbles to its preposterous climax and dippy, trippy pseudo-spiritual conclusion, viewers will have already exhausted themselves trying to keep up with its illogical plot twists.
That is, if Kiriya's epileptic visuals don't do them in first.
Whether he's aware of what thoroughgoing garbage his script is or not, Kiriya directs the film as if compensating for it. He's not entirely mistaken in thinking that wild stylistic innovation can prevent audiences from poking Titanic-sized holes in a plot, but once again his skills simply aren't up to the task. He digitally manipulates the film to within an inch of its life, washes it in random changes in film stock, and crowds the mise-en-scene with Byzantine masses of baroque futuristic machinery for no better reason than because he can. As often as not the visuals alone are enough to render a scene incomprehensible. Action scenes are collections of admittedly memorable images pared down to split-second cuts and edited together with the alacrity of a lobotomized test monkey on speed. It's an orgy of directorial self-satisfaction—as grandiose an example of stylistic masturbation as you're ever likely to see.
As if the one-two punch of a sprawling, sloppy script and confusing visuals weren't enough, Dreamworks' subtitle translation does some obvious monkeying with the timing and content of the dialogue, making some scenes even sillier than they were originally. Other decisions on their part—non-selectable English subtitles, a complete absence of extras—give one a new appreciation for the oft-overlooked consideration of anime companies.
Big, loud, sloppy and dumb, Casshern rates among the worst attempts ever to re-invent a classic comic character. When an entire movie can be stolen by the cameo appearance of a helmet (the original Casshern's, retro-cool headpiece), you know something is horribly awry.
Overall : D
Story : D-
Art : D
Music : B
+ Score has some nifty techno and guitars; taken on its own, some of the imagery is pretty cool.
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