Casshern (Kazuaki Kiriya, 2004)

Casshern is a difficult recommendation to make, not because it is a bad film, rather one that will defy your expectations. On the surface it may seem a CGI laden superhero adventure but Casshern is an entirely different beastie altogether.

In a dystopian future, the ageing leaders of a military government employ a leading scientist whose research may well negate the mortal ageing process that threatens their rule.  The research involves the growth of organs for transplant, but the organs evolve seemingly growing entire human beings around them. What eventually becomes clear is that the scientist has involuntarily created a system for re-animating the dead. So when the newly created life-forms rebel against their creators, the scientist re-animates his dead son who, by adding a suit of armour, becomes the mythical avenging angel known as Casshern and sets about hunting down the rebels.

The first thing you will notice is that the film relies heavily on the use of CGI. However rather than trying to make the CGI elements appear photo-real (which they are clearly not), the creative minds behind the production have tried to adapt the live action elements to fit the CGI wisely giving the film a consistent aesthetic.  This, combined with disorienting editing techniques and stylised representations of motion make the film seem less like a live action feature and more like an animated feature that happens to have some live action elements.

The film is extremely rich in its imagery, perhaps too rich for some audiences. The pacing and tone of the film are also somewhat challenging.  The first half hour is extremely slow, focusing on damaged families and political manoeuvring.  In addition, it's no bloody fun.  For a film about a superhero who fights giant robots it is surprisingly sombre and lingers on characters with disturbing pasts, fractured psyches and dark intentions.

Good luck following the plot as well. Very little is clearly explained and the use of somewhat challenging narrative techniques often confuse reality. Character's perspectives, memories and even imaginations are shown to us without clear differentiation between those and real events.

Oh, and it ends on a massive bummer too.

So yes, Casshern is a difficult recommendation, but I am going to recommend it anyway. To some of you at least. A number of reviews have labelled the film a work of style over substance, but here the style is the substance. This is by no means a conventional film and intentionally so. Don't let the genre conventions fool you, Casshern borders on art cinema. It is a collage of conventional science fiction imagery mashed into a pulp and splashed onto a canvas in an abstract splatter. The challenging narrative techniques allow us to see character's thoughts made real, yet without any indication that what we are seeing isn't real, requiring the audience to constantly unpick what they are seeing on screen.

While I acknowledge the pretensions in this next statement I firmly believe it is a poem, and one that even after three viewings I am still deciphering. How do I know there is even something there to be deciphered? The journey these characters go on is pretty gruelling and the final moments are so tough and heartbreaking that I'm always left somewhat distraught. For a film to do that and be nothing but style and surface is absurd. There is something going on at its core, I just haven't worked out what it is yet and there is part of me that can't wait to dive back in and have another try.

Casshern is a film that might lure in an audience expecting superhero action and, in that case, will no doubt disappoint. But go in ready for two hours plus of convention busting, borderline abstract envelope pushing (that also happens to have superhero action) and you might find something there to satisfy.


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