The film consists of six interrelated and interwoven stories spanning different time periods: an 1849 diary of an ocean voyage across the Pacific; letters from a composer to his friend in the 1930s; a thriller about a murder at a nuclear power plant set in the 1970s; a farce about a publisher in a nursing home in the present day; a rebellious clone in a futuristic Korea; and the tale of a tribe living in a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, far in the future.
David Mitchell, the author of the novel on which the film is based said: ‘all of the main characters, except one, are reincarnations of the same soul in different bodies throughout the novel identified by a birthmark’. The filmmakers endeavoured to carry this concept through into the movie by casting a number actors in multiple roles, changing race, age and gender in the process. Argueably they stepped over the line as they extended the concept not only to to minor characters but to gimmicky cameos by the movies stars in segments where they would not otherwise appear.
The casting of white actors in Asian roles caused some controversy; there was no similar objection to the Asian actresses playing white roles.
The casting controversy may have damaged the film’s prospects for the Best Makeup Oscar– it as not even nominated. It has, however, won Best Makeup awards at both the 18th Critics’ Choice Awards and the Deutschen Filmpreise; it was also nominated for a Saturn Award for makeup.
Jeremy Woodhead & Daniel Parker were the hair makeup designers; Kuno Schlegelmilch was credited for makeup concept; Siân Richards was Halle Berry’s personal makeup artist. An army of makeup effects artists & studios worked on sculpting, making & applying the various character prosthetics in the movie including: Filmefex, Animated Extras, Valentina Visintin, Barney Nikolic, Göran Lundström of (EffektStudion), Creatures Inc, Floris Schuller, Pepe Mora … One artist was even offered work on the movie by three different FX companies in different countries. Some of the makeups used Tinsley transfers.