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2002 - R - 118 Mins.
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Producer: Tetsu Horibe
Written By: Takashi Yamazaki
Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Anne Suzuki, Kirin Kiki, Goro Kishitani, Yukiko Okamoto, Kazuya Shimizu
Review by: James O'Ehley

E.T. phone hooome . . . er sorry, wrong movie . . .
A young girl travels back in time to latter-day Japan so as to prevent an 80-year-old war between humanity and aliens from ever happening in the first place. Along the way she teams up with a martial arts and weapons expert, replete with swirling leather jacket a la “The Matrix”. In the process she also becomes involved in the life-long vendetta between our hero and a Yakuza crime boss (don’t ask . . .).

Why did it take a superior and advanced alien race capable of interstellar flight this long to subdue the Earth? I don’t know, but this is only one of many plot points and wild coincidences that are never explained in this live action Japanese movie, which was also the biggest grossing movie in that country in 2002.

I mention that it is live action movie because if you’re in the West you’d be forgiven for mistakenly believing that Japan only produces anime features. The video box art doesn't help either. “Returner” might as well be an anime movie with its over-the-top action sequences and crammed plot though.

You may have gathered from my brief plot synopsis that “Returner” doesn’t have a single original thought in its head (a bit like Roland Emmerich's “Independence Day”). “Returner” wantonly mixes plot elements and visual cues from the “Terminator” movies, “The Matrix”, Luc Besson action flicks, “E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial” and, yes, even “Independence Day”. Not that it matters much though: the movie just barrels pig-headedly ahead and mixes its various influences in a way that almost approaches a kind of inspired lunacy. Despite consisting of bits from other movies (like the recent “Equilibrium”) "Returner" is however never all that predictable.

The special effects are unexpectedly good (you gotta love those “Transformer” 'bot things!) and the fresh-faced cast is game, especially Goro Kishitani as the Yakuza psycho bad guy. Although proceedings begin to drag a bit past the half-way mark, action movie and anime buffs ought to check out “Returner”.

To be honest I liked it better than the recent “Terminator 3 – Rise of the Machines” sequel, which seemed like a tired rehash of the previous films in the series. If you want to rehash things you have to be ambitious and steal from a lot of other movie and do it energetically, like “Returner” does . . .

Even though “Returner” tends to drag slightly from the midsection on (the movie is just too long), it would make a decent rental for a slow night, or as part of a double bill - maybe along with that other recent paragon of originality, “Equilibrium”. You’ll certainly be getting the action movie fix that the recent “Terminator 3 – Rise of the Machines” and the “Matrix” sequels couldn’t deliver on.

Besides, the plot - although crammed with subplots – is more comprehensible than “The Matrix Revolutions” . . .
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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