When it comes to bigscreen adaptations of hugely popular manga comics, they don’t come much bigger or weirder than the bugs from Mars space opera Terra Formars. Based on Yū Sasuga and illustrator Kenichi Tachibana’s best-selling 2011 manga series of the same name, Terra Formars has already sold more than 13 million copies worldwide, spawned five spin-off manga comic series (including an erotic parody!), two anime TV series, two “Original Video Animations” for the home market, and now, thanks to controversial horror-meister Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Audition), Terra Formars has been adapted into a splatter-tastic live-action feature film as well. While it’s safe to say the strange, extremely gory Terra Formars is not for all tastes, sci-fi and manga fans will be all over this thing like, well, giant roaches on Mars.
Primarily known stateside for directing a now-infamous 2006 episode of Showtime’s Masters of Horror anthology series entitled Imprint – which was so graphic and disturbing that the cable giant initially refused to air it – Miike more than lives up to his “extreme cinema” bad-boy reputation with Terra Formars. And though the film’s campy, midnight movie storyline and cartoonish characters run out of steam long before the third act, even viewers who hate the film will have a hard time looking away from all of the candy-colored insanity onscreen.
Stealing brazenly from sci-fi classics like Blade Runner, Aliens, and Paul Verhoeven’s B-movie masterpiece Starship Troopers, the biggest problem with Terra Formars is that Miike and company throw so much beautifully rendered CGI craziness at the screen, in such rapid-fire succession, that nothing really has time to stick. And even if it did, the story is so totally outlandish that it hardly matters. Seriously, I’ve played video games with more depth.
And speaking of depth and plot, the set-up in Terra Formars is a doozy. Set in a distant future where scientists have attempted to colonize Mars by seeding it with algae to absorb the sunlight and purify the air and cockroaches to spread the algae, Terra Formars is the story of the rag-tag team of criminals sent to kill the hideously-mutated giant cockroaches on the red planet now that the job is done. Yep, that’s the story. But wait, it gets better!
Unbeknownst to the team – which includes a former cop, two bumbling Yakuza members, a terrorist, a hacker, a murderous kick-boxer with a heart of gold, and the leader of a teen prostitution ring – each and every “astronaut” on the mission has had their DNA secretly combined with that of an insect. Not only does that make them better able to fight the giant roaches (known as Terra Formars), but it also makes for some fairly spectacular bug-on-humanoid-bug fight sequences, including a killer scene featuring an otherworldly moth-human hybrid setting an army of Terra Formars ablaze with her incendiary moth dust. And yes, I know that sounds crazy, but, it’s actually kinda cool.
Starring a very game cast top-lined by Hideaki Itō (Umizaru, Wood Job!), Rila Fukushima (Arrow, The Wolverine) and Oscar-nominee Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim), Terra Formars was adapted for the screen by anime veteran Kazuki Nakashima (Kill La Kill), but deep down, this runaway rocket to planet crazy owes everything to Miike. My only other advice is to make sure and eat your inflight meal before you watch this film because you definitely won’t have much of an appetite afterwards. Especially if something crunchy is on the menu.
Terra Formars opened earlier this year in Japan and Hong Kong and is now playing on select Singapore Airlines, China Southern, China Airlines, Delta, and Qatar Airways flights worldwide.