Plot: What’s it about?
Arrow Video is one of the best places to find interesting Japanese cinema entries on Blu-ray. The DVD era was a great time to love Japanese films as Criterion put out excellent releases of Kurosawa’s work and eBay made it much easier to find any strange Japanese film that you had heard of in some film forum. Back in those days I remember hearing about a movie called Audition from a director named Takashi Miike. Intrigued by the premise, I purchased a DVD copy of the film and it quickly cemented itself in my memory as one of the most unique horror films I had ever seen. Arrow Video has released that film on Blu-ray along with several other films from the prolific Miike in the last few years. They have released his Dead or Alive Trilogy and his Black Society Trilogy in addition to releasing this film Terra Formars. Miike is a madman who seems to have the ability to direct a couple movies every year. With this much output, some films are better than others. For example, 13 Assassins is much better than Shinjuku Triad Society. One of Miike’s most amazing attributes is that his film output is so varied. I digress though. Let’s talk about Terra Formars.
To solve a population problem, human beings in the 21st century designed a way to colonize Mars. Through transportation of vegetation they were able to raise the temperature of Mars. They introduced moss and one other lifeform that could survive the climate… cockroaches. This was the process of terraforming. The film starts in Tokyo in the year 2059. Two people, Shokichi (Hideaki Ito) and Nanao, are running from the law. They are caught and Professor Honda (Shun Ogori) enlists them to help begin clearing out the rubbish and cockroaches on Mars. Otherwise they will be charged for murder and accessory to murder. An ex-cop, two yakuza, a serial killer, an illegal immigrant, the leader of a child prostitution ring, a hacker, a terrorist, a kickboxer, Nanao, and Shokichi depart for Mars with their captain Dojima. What the enlisted men find is that this is no ordinary eradication mission. There are large creatures that no longer resemble cockroaches. The cosmic radiation has caused the cockroaches to evolve at a tremendous pace. Now they are creatures called Terra Formars and they stand upright like humans and know how to fight. All of the enlisted participants have been injected with some insect DNA and must use their powers to kill the Terra Formars. There is a shot they inject that activates their crazy powers which are based on specific insect abilities from the ant to the mantis to the hornet. When they take the shot their body mutates into a hybrid form but they are warned to only take a certain amount of shots or they will turn into an insect fully.
Terra Formars is based upon a famous Manga in Japan and in many ways is a pretty corporate entry by Miike in the sense that there was already a known fan base for the project before he filmed it. That said…
This movie is absolutely freaking bonkers. As I was watching the film, I kept saying to myself, “What am I watching?” It is basically a cross pollination of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Ghosts of Mars, and Dragon Ball Z. Oh yeah… and there are a lot of decapitations and bug smashing.
I don’t really know what to say. Is this movie good? Is it bad? It is strange and I couldn’t find the strength to stop watching it. Like all of Miike’s films, it is one of a kind and a little bit insane. There are some sequences that are really cool, such as the opening sequence in futuristic Tokyo. I think from reading the plot synopsis you can decide if this film is up your alley. For myself, I landed somewhere in the middle on this one. It was so strange that I had to give it some props for originality, but I am not sure that I would want to watch it again any time soon. That said, discussing the film brought a smile to my face so maybe I will watch it again in the future? Only time will tell.
Video: How’s it look?
Terra Formars is presented on Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This release seems to have come from the digital files used for the theatrical version, so I thought that the film looked pretty great. This is a fairly new release (2016) and the Blu-ray presentation matches the standards that you would expect of a 2016 film. Fine detail is excellent. I did not notice any noticeable compression issues. It looks fantastic.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The audio treatment of Terra Formars is fantastic. The film has a ton of action that benefits from the surround channels. From the engines blasting off from the BUGS-2 to the satisfying crunch of a knock-out punch on a roach, the sound design for the film is excellent. This film is a pretty energetic movie so it will pretty consistently give your speakers a workout. The movie sounded pretty great in my man cave. Fans of Japanese death metal should dig it.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Making Of – This piece is almost as long as the film itself and is full of interviews with Takashi Miike and other members of the cast alongside behind-the-scenes footage.
- Extended Cast Interviews – Five total, each offering a bit of insight on the actors and their respective characters.
- Hideako Ito
- Emi Takei
- Tomohisa Yamashita
- Takayuki Yamada
- Shun Oguri
- Teasers and Trailer
- Stills Gallery
The Bottom Line
Terra Formars is not my favorite Takashi Miike film, but it is entertaining and over the top. Whether or not you will enjoy this film should be evident to you after reading the plot synopsis. If the idea of people augmenting themselves with insect powers to fight gigantic evolved cockroaches on Mars does not sound like your cup of tea, then it probably will not win you over. For myself, it was probably only something I would watch once, but I could probably be persuaded to watch it again if a friend wanted to see it. That said, Arrow have provided truly exceptional technical specs and a good amount of supplemental materials. I am glad to see more of Miike’s crazy filmmaking arrive stateside.