All Glitter, No Action
I didnít discover until afterwards that Casshern, a remarkably beautiful CGI-fest, was based on a 1973 Japanese anime of the same name. It explains quite a lot.
Casshern is the eponymous hero of the film ó the reanimated son of a scientist who has discovered Ďneo-cellsí (a bit like stem cells, but whizzier), the hoped-for basis of a revolutionary new spare-part surgery technology. Casshernís father works for a monolithic state that has been at war with another monolithic state for a very long time (shades of 1984 here). When Casshern is killed in the war and brought home for a heroís funeral something weird happens at his fatherís research lab. The neo-cells spontaneously organize themselves into living human beings and try to escape, only to be shot and killed by the understandably rattled authorities. Four of them do manage to escape, however, and manage to reach a kind of mountain fastness, conveniently equipped with endless hordes of robot soldiers.
Meanwhile, back at the lab, a tired and emotional Papa Casshern drops his son into the neo-cell Ďsoupí, which not only miraculously reanimates him but endows him with remarkable energy ó so much energy, in fact, that our papa has to build a special suit of armor to contain it lest Casshern explode.
And itís fortunate he does so, because the product of the neo-cells ó calling themselves, in a fit of originality, Neo-humans ó return with a grudge against humanity that Frankensteinís monster might hesitate to endorse as proportional. Cue some remarkable fight scenes between the armored, energized Casshern and the unarmoured but very energetic (and backed with hordes of retro looking soldier robots) Neo-humans.
Unfortunately, it has taken more than 30 overblown minutes to get even this far, and the remarkable fight scenes are over far too soon. Imagine if an overexcited eight-year old had been given a few million dollars and no adult supervision to create a film that was bigger, brasher, faster, brighter and crazier than The Matrix. What might he have come up with? Casshern is not that film, sadly ó which is a shame because it would have been substantially better if it were.
Once entire legions of retro looking soldier robots have been dispatched and the Neo-humans and Casshern have briefly squared off, things go downhill with a speed inversely proportional to that of the actual plot development in this film. I thought Jim Jarmuschís recent Broken Flowers was a rather labored film, one that filled entire minutes with stillness and silence, dragging out too many scenes until I wanted to scream, "All right! I get it! Can we please move on now, please?!" In a cultural reversal of no little irony, Casshern makes Broken Flowers look almost anime-esque in its devil-may-care, breakneck pace. And Broken Flowers also has a significant advantage over Casshern in that we know what is going on! Despite the high production values, the remarkable similarity of the early fight scene to those of almost any average anime may set alarm bells ringing. (Even the sound effects seem familiar!) You soon realize that Casshern is, in actual fact, a 1973 Japanese anime, albeit one with 2005 special effects and inflation-adjusted budget. And itís almost completely incomprehensible. Stuff happens, people watch it happen, then we watch them think about it for a bit. If itís a particularly hectic section then someone might venture an opinion about what just happened. Another thing will probably then happen ó which you will have to rewind because youíll assume you nodded off for a minute or so and missed the little clarifying link between the two things.
There are no little clarifying links between things.
I often donít minds films being a bit slow and portentous; similarly, I can sympathize with films that are, frankly, a bit silly. What I canít handle are films that are slow, portentous and silly as well. Which is Casshern.
In its favor, Casshern looks beautiful ó remarkably beautiful; thereís a lot of CGI here. No, thereís more CGI than that ó however much CGI you think there might be, double that, and add more CGI effects over the top of absolutely everything, giving some very striking filter and light effects, but also some flashes of metaphorical vision that you simply would not see in a Hollywood film, let alone a Hollywood science fiction film (which are frequently rooted in a very Hard SF mindset). Casshern is, initially at least, a blizzard of images and colors that will make you gasp. After a couple of hours, which will feel more like four, your gasps will have long since turned to sighs.