Imagine yourself in a distant future. The Greater Asian Empire has taken over most of Europe, but in the process has brought on pollution, famine and terrorism. That is the future presented in the gorgeous adaptation of the 1993 Animé "Casshan".
Dr. Azuma is a scientist on the verge of a gigantic breakthrough. He has discovered something which he dubs Neocells. The cells can be used to reconstruct any part of the body. Azuma has a selfish investment in the project, his wife being sick and the neocells being her only rescue. The research is turned down by the Health Ministry, the military secretly takes over the project. Azumas son Tetsuya joins the war against the struggling rebels, but sees immeasurable pain and suffering. He dies in battle and his body is shipped home to the family. Lightning strikes in the neocell research facility creating mutants that emerge from the red liquid containing the cells. Most of them are murdered, but a small group manages to escape. In all the ensuing chaos Azuma approaches the red liquid and submerges the body of his dead son, giving him life again. His body is highly unstable though, and the scientist father of Tetsuyas fiancée Luna has a solution. He has invented a body armor that helps Tetsuya, now dubbed Casshern, to control his powers. The mutants have already sworn bloody revenge on the humans who betrayed them after bestowing them life. A violent war ensues and Casshern must use his powers to end it and save his mother Midori, whom the mutants have kidnapped.
Kazuaki Kiriya has done something quite astonishing. With a rumoured budget of a measly 6 million dollars he has created a fantastically aesthetic film. The film is shot almost entirely green screen and all the backgrounds are then added in post production. Same procedure as "Skycaptain and the World of Tomorrow", and "Sin City". Already in the opening shot it becomes clear that this film is something quite unique. This is no mere action picture. There is a great deal of story to follow, the above summary only being a very short introduction to the plot of the film.
"Casshern" combines philosophy, religion, and human dilemmas, with gigantic robots, power suits, mutant and swords. No small task, but it works. The moral dilemmas presented in the film, are shown in ways that allow for ambiguity in the characters. The film has comments on a large number of subjects including war, terrorism, pollution and humanity. The religious aspects of the film are very important. The messianic portraying of Casshern is no coincidence. When Tetsuya is lowered into the neocell water, the scene has striking similarities with a baptism, the red water much akin to blood, and the deliberate slow pacing of the scene allowing for some powerful imagery. The philosophic aspects are dealt with through all the dialogues and monologues spread throughout the film. There are some holes in the story, supposedly some of them can be explained through greater knowledge of the original anime. This is the major problem of the film, one should be able to see the film in its own right, not having to rely on background info from an old anime. Especially considering the great changes in the story from the original. The acting is fantastic, (who said that acting with a green screen cant be done, Mr. McGregor?). Not once did I doubt that the characters were struggling with giant robots or racing on a motorcycle past a beautiful golden sunset.
What Kazuaki Kiriya has done is quite simply amazing. With a small budget and a tight crew he has created a beautiful, futuristic messianic fable. The parallels to a film like The Matrix are quite obvious, but "Casshern" manages to free itself from cinematic predecessors. Emerging as a unique vision of a future no one should hope for. If you want to enjoy a visual experience unlike anything else, "Casshern" is definitely a must see.