Top Ten World Cinema #7: Casshern

Casshern

My love affair with world cinema began nearly a decade ago when I watched French hit, Amelie (2001). Previously I had been reluctant to watch any film with subtitles, worried that it would hinder my enjoyment of the film. How wrong was I to be so naive? Since Amelie I have spent more time in the world cinema section at HMV than any other part of the shop and enjoyed a range of films from South America, Africa, Europe and East Asia. Discussing all my favourites would take many blogs but over the next ten days I will share what are currently, for me, the Top Ten World Cinema films. The standard of world cinema is very high with such gems as Ikiru (1952) and Let The Right One In (2008) missing out on the Top Ten. For those of you that haven’t tried world cinema I hope some of these films will be of interest. Those of you that are veterans in this field, I’m sure you won’t agree with all of my choices but I’ve no doubt you’ll appreciate a celebration of what is often an overlooked section in DVD shops.

Casshern (2004)

CasshernKazuaki Kiriya’s 2004 adaptation of an anime series that aired in the mid-Seventies contains the feel of a comic strip in places but the overall theme is of a future depiction of our world devastated by war. Two forces, the Eastern Federation and Europa, have fought for 50 years, with the Eastern Federation prevailing and holding sway over a ruined world. Amidst the aftermath of this endless struggle appears a new kind of hope for the future but one that only brings further carnage rather than the intended benefit.

The focal point to the film is the Azuma family. At the start, Dr Kotaro Azuma (Akira Terao) reveals research he has conducted into neo cells, found only in a small ethnic group, but capable of being manipulated and transformed into any organ or body part in the human body. Dr Azuma effectively promises ‘spare parts’ for humans to replace limbs lost in wars or organs devastated by disease. Though his theories are initially dismissed, General Kamijo (Hideji Otaki) provides funding for Dr Azuma who is given the green light to put his ideas into practice. Dr Azuma is eager to make his research work to save his ill wife, Midori (Kanako Higuchi), but also has to contend with his son, Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya), who against his father’s wishes joins the army to help clear up lingering insurgence against the Eastern Federation. When Tetsuya is killed a year later his body is brought to Dr Azuma’s lab for a funeral procession. After a year of work, Dr Azuma has created body parts from the neo cells but hasn’t made the necessary breakthrough to adapt them to humans. When a mysterious bolt of lightning strikes the lab and filters down into the lab, the body parts join together to form undead people who emerge from the red pools and proceed to escape into the city. The army is quickly on hand to murder the escapees but a small group manage to avoid the gunfire, hijacking a car with Midori in and making for the outskirts of the city. After a long journey into the snow-covered mountains, the lab creations, now just four members, reach an abandoned castle and find it is a disused factory for the assembling of robots. The group leader, Burai (Toshiaki Karasawa), declares war on mankind for their actions against him and his followers. He dubs his race “Neoroids” and leads them into battle at the head of an army of robots. They come up against Dr Azuma’s son, Tetsuya, who is revived by his father after immersion in the same red pools the Neoroids emerged from. What follows is another bloody war for an already exhausted world.

Casshern boasts some impressive effects but also plays out like a comic, particularly in the middle when Burai first leads his robot army into battle. Tetsuya’s first meeting with the robot army and his ease in smashing through their ranks is eye catching to say the least. The battles themselves are plentiful but the film plays out mostly as a drama, reflecting the impact war has upon the land and its people. In one beautiful scene, Tetsuya and his fiancé, Luna (Kumiko Aso), are alone in a colourful forest when Luna speaks of the events that have unfolded and questions why there is the need for war. It’s a brief moment of poignant reflection amidst the fast-paced action. Throughout, the image of the future is bleak, offering no glorifying element to war and reminding us it leaves behind only misery for those that have lived through it.

Women are portrayed as angelic in Casshern with Tetsuya’s mother, Midori, being hailed by Neoroid leader, Burai, as their saviour. Luna is constantly caught in the midst of the conflict, never resorting to violence herself, but always questioning the reason behind the atrocities. The men who take centre stage are all flawed. Dr Azuma is aiming to do good with his research but in the end he is driven to obsession in saving his wife, forsaking his son in the process. Burai only appears tender when speaking to Midori who tries to ground his hatred and need for revenge, and make him feel compassion. Tetsuya may be the hero of the film but he carries a dark secret, one that is revealed right at the very end and links him to Burai. Casshern combines some great effects with a very sincere depiction of war in all its brutality. It’s a unique film, harshly marked down by critics but more than worthy of a place in this Top Ten.

Top Ten so far:-

7) Casshern

8) The Motorcycle Diaries

9) Oldboy

10) City of God

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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