With over 100 features composing a body of work that can be best described as "varied," Takashi Miike is something of a Japanese art house Lil B — casual outsiders might balk at the quality of the work if they choose the wrong entry point, but those willing to put in the effort will be greatly rewarded with something unique, challenging and, at its very best, genuinely inspired.
That said, Terra Formars is an anomaly of its own. The film is an adaptation of Yu Sasuga and Kenichi Tachibana's 2011 manga of the same name, so hardcore fans of Japanese pop culture will go in with some seriously high expectations. For the casual onlooker, however, the whole thing is just weird enough to work.
In the year 2597, the world is finally facing its inevitable peril thanks to overpopulation. The government has decided to colonize Mars, but in order to do so it must access CO2 beneath the planets surface. How? Well, that should be obvious to even the most rudimentary scientists — send the world's cockroaches to the planet, of course.
According to the film's ludicrous plot, the blackness of the cockroaches attracts more sunlight to the planet, thus unlocking the life-giving carbon within its core. Once they've completed the cockroach plan and made Mars a ivable home, earth decides to send a ragtag team to kill off the bugs and clean up the planet.
It's not exactly the sort of feel-good extermination mission that everyone's ambling to sign up for, so the Japanese government assembles a group of Tokyo misfits to clean up the interplanetary mess (one also happens to wonder why this interplanetary pursuit is only Japan's problem). There are former prostitutes, convicted murderers, orphans and ex-Yakuza. It's an extraordinarily large group of misfits — so big that you likely won't remember most of the characters' names or their back stories.
Once they arrive in Mars, the enormous group is in for a rude awakening: it turns out that Mars' cockroaches have evolved into nightmarish CGI battle warriors. Somewhat fortunately, their earthly bosses anticipated this, so each astronaut has been equipped with a serum that will inject the superpower of a different bug into their neck, thus allowing them to transform into superhuman fighting machines as they battle the bug-eyed roach dudes.
Is this a good movie? That's a nearly impossible question to answer, though it has plenty of strengths. Shot in Iceland, the Mars scenery is eye popping — a desolate wasteland of red smoke and barren landscapes. Further, the cinematography does a solid job of mixing CGI into its real-life setting. Then there's the ridiculously entertaining bug transformations, which pair insect factoids with skull-crushing battle scenes, resulting in pure infotainment.
Some have complained that the film's tone is all over the place, and they're partly right. One scene will deliver a character's superfluous backstory with the utmost melodrama, only to be followed by slapstick comedy, a brutally violent fight scene and an Evil Dead-ready one-liner. In the traditional sense, the film could be construed as unfocused. But for those seeking something a little different, it's a lot of fun — you never truly know what's coming next.
Certainly, there are plenty of better movies out there than Terra Formars. But the film still contains enough wacky jokes, inspired explosions, jaw-dropping fight scenes and truly ridiculous transformations to make it a thoroughly entertaining 110-minute experience.
(Warner Bros. Japan)