Monday, March 06, 2006

Casshern

Last night, while the rest of the proles were watching the circle jerk that is the Academy Awards, I decided to actually watch a film. I'm funny like that. What'd I watch? Casshern.

A Japanese film, yet to be released stateside (but coming soon apparently), was recommended to me by Bob Busch. I believe I saw a trailer a year or so ago when I went to see Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, but luckily I had Bobby to remind me. I watched the movie just hoping to catch some visual eye candy (or heroin as Bobby put it, and he was right), but was surprised to have found much, much more.

The movie is an absolute visual stunner; soaked with surreal CG landscapes and action scenes, intricately sculpted sets, smart camera work, all topped off with precedent-setting digital effects added in post. You can tell the makers set off to use every trick and technique available to them, and they pulled it off with great aplomb. But, like some movies (*cough* Star Wars prequels), it doesn't make the movie feel artificial, thanks a plot solidly grounded in very human characters. Human characters played by real, live humans as well; there are no CG characters in the movie at all. (There are enormous armies of robots at points, but they're just there to kill and be killed). As such, the acting is genuine and the performances moving, no actors with stilted cardboard expressions anyone would have talking to a tennis ball on a stick.

This is what makes the movie worth watching. The themes explored in the movie deal directly with what makes us human; what drives to do the awful things we do as a species. Yeah, it's a pretty contemporary theme. It does not however descend into moralizing by pointing fingers at any country in particular (*wink wink*). What drives us to kill, what it says about us, and how we can find redemption. The movie ends beautifully and had me quite moved.

Having said that, this movie isn't for everyone. Clocking in at 2 hours 20 minutes long, it's an epic. The plot moves slowly for the first half of the movie, and can be quite confusing at times, though the threads are woven together quite well by the end of the film. You'll half to suspend a great deal of disbelief while watching to comprehend the stunning mix of themes and inspirations the creators drew from: Frankenstein, the New Testament, 70's anime, 60's live action sci-fi kung fu, Akira (the anime film), Akira (Kurosawa), Soviet propoganda, Nazi's, and the usual dose of Eastern Mysticism. And it's all set in an alternate timeline/universe, which only adds to the confusion/fun.

Having said all that, I if I could sum the movie up in one sentence it would be this: Final Fantasy come to life. Now, before you think I'm selling this movie short, lemme say a few more words. I know there are a lot of readers of this blog out there who still see computer games as child's play and mindless diversions for the teeming masses. Granted, many of them are, but some of the most popular are popular precisely because of the depth of storyline, characters and gameplay. Games are also not a passing fad. The same was said of those "moving pictures" a hundred years ago, and look where they are now. The line between movies and video games is becoming more blurred by the second, and will at some point cease to exist altogther, mark my words.

I've always been a big fan of Final Fantasy. I've always managed to play at least part of most of the games, and the appeal to me has been the depth and originality of their stories. The characters, their relationships, and moral themes of the games are always as complex, detailed and meaningful as anything you'd find in a movie, novel or TV show. Grandiose in scope and always visually stunning. The franchise is a legend in Japan (and America) with an army of loyal fans who share the same passion for it that I do.

Having said all of that, in the end, I found the movie to be a rare example of a film that made me think and touched me emotionally. It's heartily recommended by this reviewer.

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