Those of us who are fans of serious, thoughtful, science fiction film are a long suffering lot. Few in Hollywood have followed in Stanley Kubrick’s footsteps since he all but introduced the genre with 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the intervening years, only Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has truly taken up 2001‘s mantel. That’s not to say that all other science fiction film is bad. It’s just not typical that it takes on the more literary aspects of classic science fiction.

Watching the opening moments of Kazuaki’s Kiriya’s Casshern, you might find yourself thinking you’ve found a serious science fiction gem. Set in the 21st century, mankind has endured a fifty year war, and is now suffering the consequences. Nuclear fallout, rampant disease from biological weapons, and horrible mutations threaten the human race.

From there, though, the story is purely anime-inspired. A scientist discovered neo-cells, which can regenerate and grow into whole organs. After a freak thunderstorm (or maybe it’s a comet?), the neo-cells grow into superhuman warriors. These warriors become bent on the destruction of all mankind. Only one man can stop them–the scientist’s son who, after dying a horrible death, is resurrected by the neo-cells and fitted with a suit of armor that gives him even greater superhuman strength.

Yes, I know, it all sounds a bit daft, but it mostly works. The only thing that I found distracting was that our hero’s suit of armor looked a little too much like Ichi’s outfit in Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer. And if you’ve seen that movie, then you’ll know exactly how that could be distracting.

Casshern‘s visuals are intriguing, with special effects that range from passable to damn good. Just like anime, the film takes inspiration from a myriad of sources–from comic books to The Matrix to Stanley Kubrick himself.

However, while the film grew increasingly action packed, I found myself slightly disappointed yet again. It wasn’t unlike the first time I saw The Matrix. The Wachowski’s allowed me to believe for a long time that they had made a serious science fiction film before it became a full bore kung fu fest. Upon subsequent viewings, I grew to like The Matrix quite a lot. And I imagine Casshern will likewise hold up to being revisited.

The bottom line is, if you like anime like Appleseed or even the classic Ghost in the Shell, you are bound to dig Casshern, and I can recommend it without reservation. Kiriya is obviously a talent to watch in Japanese film and I expect great things from him in the future.

Although originally released in 2005 in Japan, Casshern is being released on DVD today for the first time in the United States.

The Upside: Good acting, nice direction, admirable visuals, and a dopey but fun story.

The Downside: It’s not 2001: A Space Odyssey. And it’s not Blade Runner. But that’s my own personal hang up.

On the Side:
Well, I suppose if I’d done a little research, I would have known exactly what to expect from Casshern, seeing as how it was based on a 1973 anime entitled Shinzō Ningen Kyashān (Neo-Human Casshern).

Grade: B-

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