Virtually the whole of Casshern is genuinely gorgeous to see. The movie is filled with vast, fascistic buildings, armies of fearsome robots, bulky, unwieldy flying machines, and eerie landscapes, all of which are inventively realized. Their awesome, overwhelming beauty is further enhanced by the various techniques used by the director to bring them to the screen. Kiriya presents the viewer with rooms saturated by rich reds or greens, battlefields bathed in a burning golden luminosity, superimposed images of circular and geometric designs, and groves filled with shimmering lights. Some of the movie's scenes are filmed in black and white, others are dominated either by pale, washed out colors or by the most strikingly vibrant hues, and still others are submerged in sombre greys. There are even moments during which the computer animation used to create the film's amazing fictional world is supplemented with obviously animated sequences or with archival footage. I cannot begin to express how intoxicating simply looking at Casshern is.
Sadly, the film is so profoundly flawed in so many ways that its visual appeal simply cannot compensate for its faults. In fact, Casshern is ludicrously hammy, filled with tedious speeches, and ineptly didactic.
Perhaps the movie's single worst fault is that it is wildly melodramatic. While many of its more overwrought excesses are thankfully brief, a substantial number of them are painfully interminable. Combining ham-handed histrionics with pretentious conceits that are so clumsy the slowest pseudo-intellectual would feel they are below him, the director really does test the viewer's ability to stay engaged with the film. There are times when such moments are so bad, so long, or both that the viewer is actually likely to feel embarrassed for the director.
Such feelings, however, quickly give way to boredom thanks to the endless speeches with which Kiriya has burdened his film. I cannot begin to express just how tiresome these harangues, which account for a considerable part of the movie's running time, are. While the viewer may be pained by Casshern's strained posturing, the dullness of these tirades, which the director seems compelled to put into the mouth of nearly every one of the film's character, will certainly lull him into an unfeeling stupor.
The viewer need not, however, worry unduly about sinking into unconsciousness while the movie's various characters pontificate endlessly on some topic or another, as the director will surely rouse him from his impending coma when he begins preaching himself. In the film's final act, Kiriya vomits forth such a dreadfully clumsy lecture on the foolishness and inhumanity of war that he is bound to irritate any person who has managed to muddle through all the nonsense with which he has already been bombarded. Although I both sympathize and agree with the director's position, I am not so stupid that I can be moved by any sermon that is so ineptly presented.
Despite such a variety of faults, Casshern is not so bad that it is unendurable. Visually, the movie is genuinely astonishing, and I really cannot congratulate the director enough for crafting such a stunning work. Even the action sequences with which he enlivens the story he is telling are generally nicely done. Kiriya infuses them with a wonderfully cartoonish feel, sets them to a pulsating rock soundtrack, and plays them out in a style reminiscent of that found in many music videos. The effect he achieves is genuinely fun and engaging. Such virtues do not even begin to compensate for Casshern's faults, but they do make the movie watchable.
The film is, in the end, profoundly disappointing because it oscillates so wildly between brilliance and idiocy, but its more sublime elements are certainly worth seeing.
Review by Keith Allen
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