Casshern was released in Japan in 2004, roughly around the same time as Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow and Sin City, and like those two films, Casshern uses the same approach of actors filmed against green-screen backgrounds, with animators creating the overall world of the movie. A sci-fi/action piece based on a manga from the early 70's (that was also adapted as anime that same decade), Casshern may not always make sense, story wise, but is certainly a treat for the eyes.
In the 21st century, the armies of the Eastern Federation have just finished a battle with Europa known as the Fifty-Year-War. While they have emerged victorious, the government has been presented with the promise of new advancements by Dr. Azuma (Akira Terao), a geneticist who has discovered what he terms the "Neo Cell", which he posits will cure all sickness, can replace any organ, and return the bodies of the dead to new, glorious life. He is refused; bad news for Azuma, who more than anything, wishes to use his research to cure his sick wife. Meanwhile, his son Tetsuya (Yusuke Iseya) forgoes following in his father's footsteps as a doctor to join the military, who are still attempting to help rebuild society by fighting rebel resistance from the nearby Zone 7. When the military agrees to fund Azuma's work, it is soon twisted beyond his original aims to suit their own fiendish ends, and something goes inexplicably wrong. The Neo Cells end up creating a new breed of humans, the "Neo Sapiens", who declare war against the Eastern Federation, reactivating the dormant robot armies left over from the Fifty-Year-War and using them to wreak havoc in the cities. Yet, there is a warrior, foretold in legend as a savior and protector, who may return after all. . .one named Casshern.
Casshern is kinda all over the place and an awesomely unhinged flick. It's a beautiful mess in that special way that only the Asians seem qualified to give to the world of cinema. Occasionally incoherent, insanely stylized with a flair that's wonderfully disconnected from both reality and almost every rule of typical storytelling - it's just a perfect example of spectacular chaos. Unlike Sin City and Sky Captain, more of this as a whole seems to be filmed on sets, at least in the interior locations; yet there's still plenty of CG additions and augmentations. At times recalling the 40's noir meets steampunk look of something like Dark City, other times looking like a post-apocalyptic mix of The Road Warrior and the classic anime Fist of the North Star, the world is impressively essayed and thrilling just to look at. The story doesn't always fare so well, and could be a bit more streamlined and easier to follow, but perhaps that's due to the American cut. The version we've got here clocks in at 117 minutes, almost 25 minutes shorter than the Asian release.
Still, the story IS intriguing, the flick as directed by Kazuaki Kiriya is stunning to behold with its beautiful shots and haunting compositions, and when the action scenes come they WILL kick your ass. In fact, the only thing I could think while watching it was that I'd have to update my thinking; when I first saw The Matrix years ago and was blown away, I thought to myself that this was - almost surely by the Wachowski's design - the closest thing to a live action anime that I'd ever see. Not anymore, as there couldn't be a better example of an anime come to glorious life as this flick is. It's truly a winner in that regard, and even if the dramatics don't always work as anything more than overheated melodrama, it stands head and shoulders above anything previously made like this. Is it better than Sin City or Sky Captain? I wouldn't say so, but neither is it truly trying to compete with them. The stories these movies have chosen to tell couldn't be more different and as such it's an exercise of trying to compare apples and oranges.
The Region 1 release courtesy of Dreamworks has no extras, save for a couple trailers for American blockbusters (such as Transformers). The transfer looks as kickass and sounds as earth shattering as anyone could ask. It's fucking stellar.
So overall, yes, Casshern is fully nuts. If you've ever spent any significant amount of time watching Asian flicks or anime, this will not surprise you in the least - I'm telling you, I REALLY want to know what they put in the water over there - but it will more than sate your appetite for the best form of wretched excess. You know who you are, and this is a hell of a good time you shouldn't pass up.