Casshern (2004)

I guess I’m not getting those 2 hours and 16 minutes of my life back.

I was warned. I read pretty bad reviews about this movie, but I dove in and soldiered through all of it. Curiosity didn’t just kill the cat — it ran it over with a steamroller.

Casshern is the debut feature film from director Kiriya Kazuaki, or Mr. Utada Hikaru. Kiriya directed a number of his pop star wife’s videos, even before they two got married.

Those videos featured incredibly lush, detailed visual effects, and their cinematic appeal is a definite draw. While Kiriya has a terrific eye, his storytelling needs a lot of work.

Casshern is based on an early ’70s anime television program, Shinzo Ningen Casshan.

After 50 years of war, pollution and disease threaten humanity. In an attempt to save his sick wife from her own illness, Prof. Azuma Kotaru (Terao Akira) pitches for funds to research organ harvesting. A shady defense contractor bankrolls Azuma’s research.

At the same time, Azuma’s son, Tetsuya (Iseya Yusuke), heads out to fight in the war. Azuma disapproves, but Tetsuya goes anyway. A year later, he’s killed.

On the day Tetsuya’s body arrives back from the front line, an accident in Azuma’s lab results in the rebirth of numerous cadavers. The military hunts down the reborn lab experiments, but a handful survive. They call themselves "Neo-sapiens", and they wage war on humans.

Azuma takes Testuya’s body and submerges him in the same pool from which the Neo-sapiens emerged, bringing him back to life.

And that’s just the exposition.

The rest of the movie plays out the conflict between Neo-sapiens and humanity, with Tetsuya, taking on the identity of a guardian angel named Casshern, trying to stop both from anihilating each other.

There’s a lot of story, and Casshern doles it slowly — painfully and troddingly so.

The entire plot of the film could have been condensed into 90 minutes. But Kiriya is fond of the long build-up. Every pause is exaggerated to three times its needed length.

Even for Japanese filmmaking, it’s excessive. Yes, we know two of the characters are about to engage in a sword fight. Do they need to stop and stare each other down for a full 15 seconds before one of them charges?

Perhaps the biggest fault of the movie is the fact there actually is a good story in there somewhere. Issues of family and selfishness, love and sacrifice, even oppression — terrific themes from which to fashion a plot, but it’s lost under the weight of melodrama.

To its credit, Casshern is a visually stunning work, and the dizzying action scenes don’t induce illness the way the first two episodes of Star Wars do.

Unfortunately, it fails where V for Vendetta succeeded — an epic story set in a frightening future with engaging characters. By contrast, Casshern is an epic story drowned in dense settings with unsympathetic characters.

The next time Kiriya makes a movie, his producers should make sure he doesn’t write it. At the very least, a really good editor needs to be involved.