I originally heard of Casshern through an internation movie trailer website. Which, to some degree, is a mistake. If you believe the trailer, this is a movie about a guy saying "I'll wipe out humanity" and then another guy beating the utter crap out of the first guy's robots. This does happen in the movie, but the trailer paints the focus of the film around a single fight, which is the most action packed scene in the movie, but occurs about half-way through. Casshern, must like Gundam MS 08th Team is of that interestingly ironic Japanese sub-genre: the anti-fighting action series. Of the two hours, give or take, spent watching this movie, only maybe thirty minutes at a high estimate have to do with fighting. There are long scenes of intropsection, narration, characterization and explanation. There are sweeping scenes of landscape, all of which are CG, and repetitive scenes of robot armies marching and soldiers killing. About half the movie is relatively quiet focuses on character and scenery.
If you watched the trailer and thought "this is a supreme slice of Japanese ass-kicking flavor unrivaled by anything ever conceived in the history of mankind" then you will be disappointed. And likely bored. However, if you go into it knowing that it is a movie dealing slowly with the question of hurt breeding hurt and hate spawning hate, with a focus on visual energy and a slightly murky plot, then you will probably enjoy it. For every flawed scene and skip around there is another scene that nails the emotions perfectly.
The story deals with a son, Tetsuya, who goes off to war, possibly to spite his dad, and does not return home. His family and his fiancee are devasted by his loss, leading the father to attempt to bring him back through "neo cell" technology. This same technology had just recently gave birth to a group of neo sapiens who fled the lab, kidnapping Tetsuya's mom. Hunted down and slaughtered, except for a select few, the neo sapiens declar war on humanity and Tetsuya, taking the name Casshern, fights back to defend his country.
What pivots around lip-service to a classic good v. bad divide quickly gets twisted around to the question of what violence actually solves, how much war changes the individual, what can be done to atone for sins, and why wars (and research) really go on. Characters flip flop with their moral placement throughout, most notably Tetsuya who starts out as a champion of the people but later deals with issues of how much real good he can effect.
During this broadly stroked philosophical debate, the movie treats the viewer to a series of intriguing visuals and well-placed audio elements. The music captures the mood, staying in the background as underscore but definitely shaping the scene. There is a visual tendency towards a live-action anime that might turn some off, but the overall vibe works well into the plot of the movie, and it's build up how to finally and truly atone for sins.
There are two, at least, versions of this movie. The original, theatrical version that is a bit over two hours long and has to be, as of yet, imported or downloaded to be seen in America. And there is a slightly cut down American version, coming in at a bit under two yours, that is available on DVD. While most of the scenes cut did not bother me, the translation on the American DVD is horrendous. Not only are subtitles skipped, but there are several places where they have the annoying habit of skipping, say, the main focus of the scene and then translating some faint voice you can hear on the radio. From what little Japanese I know, I could tell a few lines were questionable in translation, and people more knowledgable on the subject have said that a lot of the translation over simplifies or leaves out primary concepts of the movie.
I have the American version, and enjoy watching it, but keep in mind that you might want to track down the Japanese to get the full version with proper subs. The scenes deleted aren't that big of a deal, but when whole speeches get skipped over in the subbing process, that is a problem.
As a mood piece, this movie is Good. As an action movie, this movie is Eh. However, due to the poor quality of subs, the lack of good extras, and the somewhat random cuts in the film, the DVD package gets an overall Meh with hopes they redo it and give it some respect in the future. We should seriously be past the 1980 days of bringing over Godzilla movies and feeling the need to re-edit them to "improve" the Japanese vision.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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