In a world ravaged by war and pollution, scientist Dr. Azuma (Terao) struggles to save humanity with self-healing "neo-cells". But when his lab is struck by lightning, his experiments come to life and launch an offensive on humanity...
One of the joys of The Matrix was that it was the nearest we'd yet come to seeing a live-action anime. This Japanese sci-fi epic, directed, shot, cut and co-written by debut filmmaker Kazuaki Kiriya, comes even nearer. Yet, with its 'digital backlot' shooting method and retro-fitted, '40s-future setting, its nearest Western equivalent is Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow - given the dark shadings of Terry Gilliam's Brazil.
Visually, it's astounding. Rejecting the hyper-realistic burnish of Lucas-like CGI, Kiriya dirties his images, saturating colours in some scenes, bleaching them to harsh black-and-white in others, all the while embracing fantastic impossibility. In one sequence, the clunky, spike-helmed robot hordes march along as red-and-black Communist-poster cut-outs. In another, an immense brick building takes to the skies, aided only by a rickety array of propellers.
Being an adaptation of a 35-episode '70s cartoon show, though, Casshern struggles in its storytelling. Overlong and overedited, the film clumsily attempts to make connections between every character. Still, like much anime, it's an experience of the imagination rather than intellect, so the story's confused, agitated operatics are at least balanced out by Kiriya's impressive aesthetic flourishes.
Its Sky Captains mad Asian cousin: flawed and messy, but a hell of a looker.