Terra Formars (2016) Review

"Terra Formars" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Terra Formars” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Kazuki Nakashima
Cast: Hideaki Ito, Takayuki Yamada, Kane Kosugi, Emi Takei, Shun Oguri, Masaya Kato, Rinko Kikuchi, Tomohisa Yamashita, Eiko Koike, Mariko Shinoda, Rila Fukushima, Kenichi Takito, Rina Ohta, Tadayoshi Kobashi
Running time: 108 min.

By Matija Makotoichi Tomic

Fans and those familiar with the work of Takashi Miike might be missing the “old” Miike; whoever enjoyed films such as Dead or Alive, Deadly Outlaw: Rekka, Ichi the Killer or Visitor Q, will probably say this director’s glory days are a thing of the past and talk about them with nostalgia. While his new films can hardly play with the same effect, one can always look forward to the occasional glimpses of greatness that are 13 Assassins or Lesson of the Evil. In his latest directorial effort, Miike delivers a live action adaptation of the hit manga Terra Formars written by Yu Sasuga and illustrated by Kenichi Tachibana, later followed by two OVAs and an animated television series.

Italian premiere of Terra Formars was the first chance I had to watch any movie made by Miike on the big screen, so I feel the need to compliment the dedicated team behind Trieste S+F festival and the fantastic line-up they’ve put together for this year’s edition. As a special surprise prior to the screening, the public gathered in Sala Tripcovich enjoyed a video message from Miike personally, saying he’s sorry he couldn’t be there in person, but wishes all to enjoy his movie. He also added that the reason of his absence was his new movie that he’s curently filming in Spain. Nothing surprising about that, Miike always was a busy director and though his tempo isn’t as frenetic as it was before, he shows no signs of stoping. He’s working on a sequel to his 2014 title The Mole Song and another manga adaptation, Blade of the Immortal, set for 2017. It is his latest project however, 90’s manga based movie JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, that got him filming in Spain. Seems Miike must enjoy working outside Japan. His 2015 drama The Lion Standing in the Wind was partly shot in Kenya, and Terra Formars is said to be the first Japanese film shot on location in Iceland.

Plot of Terra Formars takes us to 2599. Tokyo of the future looks like the dystopian, cyberpunk version of itself and is swarming with people adrift among large video boards and shiny neon lights. Overpopulation has mankind searching for another habitable planet, and as expected, Mars is the solution. In an attempt to make it environmentally suitable for humans, scientists have sent cockroaches to do the terraforming. However, nobody thought they would end up turning into giant humanoid bugs unwilling to share the planet with other species. In order to exterminate the threat, evil, fashion-obsessed emo doctor sends a group of lowlifes to Mars with a special power to mutate their bodies with various bug characteristics. The unsparing fight for the Red Planet begins.

Ex-cop, pair of yakuza, murderer, teenage prostitution ring leader, serial killer/pervert; the crew of Bugs 2 headed for Mars is made of rejects with one thing in common: they could all use the money offered to them for the mission. Most of the actors casted in these roles have previously worked with Miike, most notably Hideaki Ito (Lesson of the Evil, Over Your Dead Body, Sukiyaki Western Django) and Takayuki Yamada (Crows Zero, Crows Zero 2). Perhaps the biggest surprise among familiar names and faces is Kane Kosugi. He is hardly recognizable in the role of God Lee, the only terrorist amid the exterminating crew, dressed as Jack Sparrow would be had he been born an Indian. Unfortunatelly, he is one of the first to fall in battle. All characters except the one of Sakakibara played by Rila Fukushima are manga originated. Their stories, or more precisely, the events that led to them becoming a part of the Bugs 2 crew are shown in a series of flashbacks.

Perhaps mostly in line with Yatterman and Zebraman 2, Terra Formars is another colorful, CGI fueled blockbuster that can offer more in character design and costumes than it does in satisfactory  scriptwriting or storytelling. While it’s not a particularly good movie, it still shows Miike in his best, playful, unladen tradition. The movie’s facetious tone should be taken into consideration upon watching; with Terraformars looking the way they do, and being that their blood resembles human semen, who could mistake this one for a serious feature? Silly humor, funny dialogue in english and occasional anime moment blend in with the overall tone well, while dynamic camerawork and soundtrack made mostly out of metal music manage to add a serious touch, only to make the whole thing even more humorous. There’s even a sprinkle of gentle sax music that adds a noir breeze to the movie.

Regardless of whether you like this movie or not, you can be sure Miike had fun making it. Had I seen Terra Formars in the cozy privacy of my home, I probably wouldn’t think much of it. But when seen on the big screen amidst the fan made public, Terra Formars explodes into pure cinematic spectacle that comes close to incredible as the movie reaches its finale. In its intensity and the amount of insane ideas glued together, such as tsunami made of Terraformars, it evokes the work of Nishimura or Iguchi, albeit with far less blood sprinkling. When viewed as such and valued for its fun factor if nothing else, it makes a lot more sense. If you don’t let the lack of character development or similar trivia ruin the fun, you actually might enjoy this movie.

With a cliffhanger ending it is not excluded we’re up for another round of space battle between feisty humanoid bugs and bug-like humans. I don’t know about you, but as long as Miike keeps making movies, I will continue watching whatever he comes up with. I’m pretty sure he still has one or two surprises in store for us.

Matija Makotoichi Tomic’s Rating: 6.5/10

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