STARRING: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Anne Suzuki, Kirin Kiki, Goro Kishitani, Yukiko Okamoto, Kazuya Shimizu

2002, 118 Minutes, Directed by: Takashi Yamazaki

Description: Eighty years in the future, time is running out on mankind. The only hope rests with a brave time traveler who must return to the past to change history...and alter Earth's destiny. 2084. After decades of intense fighting, an alien invasion force is close to destroying what's left of the world. In a last-ditch effort to save the human race, a guerrilla fighter named Miri leaps into a waiting Time Shifter. With the Alien Wars set to begin in 72 hours, she tricks Miyamoto, a skilled martial arts expert and gunman, into joining her cause. Together the two launch an all-out assault on the local crime lord who's captured a spaceship - and imprisoned its extraterrestrial pilot. Now the Returner and her partner must free the captive alien before warships begin to attack the planet

A young girl is sent back in time to prevent an 80-year-old war between humanity and aliens from ever happening. Along the way she teams up with a martial arts and weapons expert, replete with swirling leather jacket à la The Matrix. In the process she becomes involved in the life-long vendetta between our hero and a Yakuza crime boss (don’t ask – at least the plot is more comprehensible than Ghost in the Shell).

Why did it take a superior and advanced alien race 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 grosser in that country upon its release in 2002. Then I’m not even referring to the usual logic paradoxes that stymie time travel stories here.

I mention that it is live action movie because if you’re in the West you’d be forgiven for mistakenly thinking that Japan only produces anime features. Returner might as well be an anime movie though with its over-the-top action sequences and crammed plot.

You might have gathered from my brief plot synopsis above that Returner doesn’t have a single original thought in its head (a bit like Roland Emmerich, the director of 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 also 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.

Personally 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 . . .



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