It wouldn’t be Fantasia without a new film or two by Japanese madman Takashi Miike. And this year was no exception, as well as being the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award he brought his most recent film Terra Formars.
Based on the manga of the same name and set in 2577 a motley crew of killers, sociopaths and other criminals are sent to Mars to implement the final stages of terraforimng the planet. They were told this involves killing off the hordes of cockroaches that were sent there 500 years before to eat the algae that was used to melt the ice caps. However in that time they’ve mutated into giant, humanoid creatures. However it seems this was expected by others and our heroes have had assorted insect DNA spliced to their own, giving them superpowers to fight back. But will it be enough to handle the hordes of roaches on Mars, and the double crossing going on back on Earth?
First of all, Miike has thankfully taken out the manga’s outrageous racism. For those not familiar with it the humanoid roaches were depicted as not just ethnically black but “gangsta” and the crew from earth lily white. Thankfully the crew are all Japanese and the bugs look like two legged roaches in the movie. On the other hand he left way to much of the manga’s years worth of plot in and the film runs an incredibly bloated 148 minutes which is way to long. At 90 or so minutes this would have been great, at two and a half hours it gets very repetitive. You can only watch so many humanoid bug vs human bug battles before they start to run together.
Given all of the emphasis on the film’s action scenes the effects could have been a bit better as well. The CGI is of very variable quality and really suffers during the scenes showing swarms of the creatures. The practical effects for the individual creatures looks fairly rubbery, but that could be intentional, as a nod to shows such as Ultraman and Power Rangers.
This is, as you can probably guess, the more mellow and family friendly Miike we’re seeing here, the film fits in with The Great Yokai War and Ninja Kids. There’s the odd decapitation but it’s very cartoonish, there’s no trace of Audition or even Imprint’s brutality to be found here. And while the tone fits the material I can’t help but wonder what the results would have been if he had gone the other way and decided to make the red planet even redder. Ichi the Exterminator anyone?
Though far from Miike’s best film and seriously overlong Terra Formars isn’t a total loss. Fans of the original manga or those willing to watch it in two parts might also find it a better time than I did.