Terra Formars (Cert 15)

1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 109 minutes approx.

If there is an anime or manga most people would not think of trying to adapt into a live action film you can always count on Takashi Miike to step up. Whether it is the camp silliness of Yatterman, the teenage violence of Crows Zero, the Samurai brutality of Blade Of The Immortal, or the downright nonsense of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Miike is always up for the challenge.

Terra Formars is based on the manga by Yu Sasuga and Michio Fukuda and later became an anime, and sees Miike taking his unique cinematic vision to outer space. In the 21st century, with Earth becoming overpopulated, it was decided Mars should be colonised. To make it inhabitable for humans, scientists instigated the process of terraforming to lay seeds of moss on the planet’s surface, spread by millions of cockroaches.

By the year 2599, a group of social misfits with criminal records have been selected to travel to Mars on the BUGS-2 mission and clean up the dead cockroaches to atone for their crimes. But when they arrive on Mars, instead of finding dead insects they instead find they have mutated into giant, powerful, and violent humanoid cockroaches. However, this has been pre-empted as everyone has been genetically altered with the DNA of other insects to give them bespoke fighting abilities.

Such a fanciful concept leaps of the page in written form, looks interesting as a comic book and is great fun as an animated venture, but can it translate to the live action medium, even in the hands of a legendary maverick like Miike? That is the contentious issue with this film – it with be either a work of batty genius or too silly for words, pretty much summing up many of Mike’s works.

A few changes have been made to the source material; the extensive crew of social miscreants has been whittled down to a handy dozen all hailing from Japan, whereas the original group was more of a global gathering. Coming from all walks of life the only common bond is poverty and a tainted social record; primarily featured are lovers Shokichi (Hideaki Ito) and Nanao (Emi Takei), serial killer Shunji (Kenichi Takito), kick-boxer Jin (Tomohisa Yamashita) and morose hacker Ichiro (Takayuki Yamada).

Making up the other key players are terrorist God Lee (Kane Kosugi), captain Keisuke (Masaya Kato), stoic deputy Asuka (Rinko Kikuchi), and adding glamour is Russian hooker Maria (Rina Ohta), pilot Mina (Eiko Koike), and whiney Sorae (Mariko Shinoda). They were all recruited by the vain and wealthy tyrant Ko Honda (Shun Oguri), claiming he has government approval for the mission but doesn’t appear to be completely on the level.

The usual pitfall of have too many characters is felt early on as some are only defined by their tropes, like the arrogant yakuza, who are killed of fairly quickly before we even get to know about them and their crimes. Flashbacks are afforded sparingly, Shokichi and Nanao’s romantic tragedy, and Ichiro’s impoverished origins being the main ones, offering only the slightest exposition for their plights.  

Despite being a disparate collection, they come together in the name of survival and use their insect powers for the sake of the team and not for personal gain. To awaken these abilities, each person has a gun that injects the DNA of their assigned insect to work in tandem with their genetically altered body chemicals, transforming them into a hybrid of themselves and the insects.

No doubt the science behind this is won’t hold up under scrutiny but it makes for great copy within the diegesis of a sci-fi fantasy; in fact, if you think about it, this isn’t too far from classic kung fu films where fighting styles are based on animals and insects, except here they temporarily become the insect. From flame spitting beetles to super strong bullet ants, poisonous hornets and body possessing wasps, entomologists will delight in the obscurity of the research references here.

Unfortunately it comes with a hefty caveat; when the humans have transformed they tend to look like people dressed as insects – in other words, if you can imagine the alien villain in a tokusatsu show with cheap looking prosthetics and make-up that is how the insect humanoids look but with more expensive make-up. It shifts the tone from a dark and serious sci-fi yarn to risible comic actioner only unyielding in its gruesome violence.

The actual Terraformers are amazingly rendered, move well, and look the part according to their manga origins. I suspect they are pure CGI creations but the blending with the live actors is so flawless a few suits must have been made for the odd interaction scene. Special effects are generally good, only a few niggles with the green screen backgrounds representing the planet surface failing to create depth being an issue.

Miike being Miike, we never know if he is taking the mickey or not, and in this instance it shows in the performances. In the early going everyone plays it straight, except for Shun Oguri who feasts on the scenery as the ludicrous antagonist Honda, then once they transform they too go for an extra helping of ham when cosplaying as insects.

It is fair to say Rinko Kikuchi’s presence here is surprising given her status as the only current Japanese actress to have cracked Hollywood, unless she owes Miike a favour. Despite being the most well known face internationally, she is just another cast member here, only has a few scenes, and doesn’t even get top billing, possibly explaining why she doesn’t really stand out.

Offering plenty of exciting action born from a fascinating concept, Miike’s take on Terra Formars is sadly a rather flat affair. It looks great but the nuances of the story are too complex to be told sufficiently inside two hours. Approach this is a piece of OTT sci-fi hokum and maybe it won’t disappoint so much despite its obvious entertaining merits.

 

Extras:

Japanese Language 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Japanese Language Stereo

English Subtitles

The Making of Terra Formars

Cast Interviews

Outtakes

Theatrical and Teaser trailers

Image Gallery

Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options

First Pressing only:

Illustrated Collector’s Booklet

 

Rating – ***

Man In Black