Only Miike could make TERRAFORMARS
There’s no two ways about it… Terraformars (2016) is everything. Thanks to Arrow Video (the UK label’s US branch), yet another theatrically neglected Miike Takashi title gets a venerable edition ripe for home base midnight movie viewing, which is exactly the framework wherein to fully appreciate a gleaming maniacal gem like this. Everything about Terraformars is set to 11… and that is saying a lot for Miike who now has 103 feature length films to his credit, each of which is breathless, bold and bizarre.
Adapted from a manga (written by Yū Sasuga and Michio Fukuda, Illustrated by Michio Fukuda) and anime (Directed by Michio Fukuda) by screenwriter Nakashima Kazuki, Terraformars is about a ragtag team of loners, criminals and degenerates in the year 2599 sent to Mars by a tech DIVA (yes, all caps) under a totalitarian (if not Imperialist) tinged government commission to exterminate the cockroaches (yes, cockroaches) which had been sent there as part of a terraforming process to ready the planet for human colonization due to earth’s overpopulation crisis. If only it were that altruistic. Unbeknownst to the crew, these cockroaches have evolved over 500 years under the extreme conditions of the planetary transformation into a brawling bipedal species of insect humanoids that have uncanny and unprecedented means of executing puny human beings with the swift swipe of a claw. As much is proven at first contact… and second… and third. Actually it is remarkable how quickly and unceremoniously the crew of 15 is whittled to just a handful. TF swan dives into the thick of things and never comes up for air. C’est la Miike-san!
Also unbeknownst to the crew, they have each undergone a secretive genetic procedure that grafts particular insect DNA into their genome that can be activated by use of a drug cocktail, transforming them temporarily (if they are careful about the dosage) into what should be unacceptably absurd but is actually gleefully amazing bug-human hybrid warriors. I absolutely live for the expositional segments when they explain which bug’s DNA was selected for each person and describe the insane new abilities it bestows upon them when applied to human scale. All this is to say that there are secret motives and dubious deeds underlying this mission…. and another mission which came before. The true dramatic weight comes from the crew’s lightly investigated backstories, individuals pitted against life’s circumstances, cherry picked for their desperation. Without that element I’d say we have mere spectacle, but a modicum of history and humanity goes a long way in a world where cockroach anthropoids swarm in tsunami grade waves. It also poises TF as an extension of Miike’s career long dissertation on the twisted clawing paths of the downtrodden, used, abused and marginalized… and I’m not just talking about the humans here.
Larger inferences aside, one thing is certain about TF, it knows what it is and it looks excruciatingly cool and crazed while doing it. Besting even Pacific Rim, whose scale and commotion obscures its own eye candy, TF is unmitigatedly sharp, unsympathetically gruesome, and uncommonly playful for a mainstream sci-fi picture of its ilk. Then again, TF doesn’t really have an ilk. It is a practically peerless thing. Only estranged and distant cousins could be found in Del Toro’s Mimic (1997) or Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). As Tom Mes points out in his essay for the edition, the closest possible relation might be Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (1997), a comparison near and yet far. Despite his willingness to go to places few would dare to tread with half as much seriousness, Miike predicates everything on the human scale thus making it all the easier to relish the action even when exaggerated. In a sense, there is always gravity to hold things down.
Evident of TF’s its marvelous production values, even while decapitations were being dealt like Mardi Gras beads, all I could think of is “how do I get a hold of one of those space suits?” because even the least attractive among the crew looks incredible af in them. The heightened intersection of TF’s absurdity, seriousness, sleekness and bleakness, if surrendered to properly, makes for a thrilling and enjoyable place to be, replete with impeccable aesthetic details and sharp neon lines. Though certainly not without its intelligence, we’re not thinking too hard about this one, we’re along for a swift-moving ride, and one that you’ve arguably never seen before because few other than Miike have the means, motive and mania to execute pure extruded mayhem like TF, much less successfully translate intrinsic qualities of anime to live action. This is crossover presents a perpetual problem, never solved in total, but the great tide of attempts is getting closer and closer, learning more and more what heightened and exaggerated qualities survive the third dimension. Either that, or we are simply acclimating to the process. I tend to think it is both and it makes my appetite for Miike’s more recent adaptation of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (2017) all the more voracious and hopeful.
Arrow’s edition is simple and delightful. Beyond the immaculate 1080p presentation (seriously one of the most crystalline visual feasts I’ve ever seen) and the reversible sleeve (why do I love these things so much?!), the feature length making-of is a true highlight. It confirms the two things I feel every time I see Miike speak… I can’t believe this gentle and considerate man is responsible for what I just watched, and I want him to be my uncle. It also reveals what many of the practical and green-screen effects sequences look like before they’ve been seamlessly merged. That is another hallmark of this production, a balance of practical/makeup effects, sets and digital spectacle. That balance makes it so much easier to leap into TF with abandon.
My only wish is that Terraformars: A New Hope (the 4 episode prequel web series supervised by Miike), had been included as a feature. It would have launched this edition into sheer greatness. That’s just me wishing though. The edition we have here is a suitable tribute to a sickeningly cool and cooky interplanetary melee. Give me a sequel yesterday.
Terra Formars will be released on April 2nd, 2019
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options
• Newly-translated English subtitles
• The Making of Terra Formars - feature-length documentary on the film’s production featuring a host of cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage
• Extended cast interviews
• Footage from the 2016 Japanese premiere
• Image Gallery
• Theatrical and teaser trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Tom Mes