Rating: 8/10
Year: 2002
Genre: Fantasy
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Anne Suzuki, Goro Kishitani

Although the Japanese film market has been colonized by Hollywood, there are still a number of charismatic Japanese filmmakers striving to make a difference. Director Takeshi Yamazaki is definitely one of these future stars who is full of potentials. His first film Juvenile, targetted to kids and teenagers, was a hit and it even won an award in an overseas film award ceremony. Returner is his sophomore effort. Not only does it contain a more extravagant cast, the scale of the movie is also much bigger than its predecessor. As expected, it was well received in Japan. Lead male Takeshi Kaneshiro has once again become ultra popular in the film industry.

In the early 21st century, our lovely planet Earth is invaded by aliens. Millie (Anne Suzuki) is the last hope of the human race, as her mission is to get back to the past to stop the war from happening. The first person she meets in 2002 is bounty hunter Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro). After some misunderstandings, an attachment gradually forms between the two of them, and they finally team up and try to save the world... Seriously speaking, this film does not fall exactly under the sci-fi genre. Unlike Hollywood movies like The Matrix, there is no elusive or enigmatic scientific terms in the film at all, the emphasis is rather the actions and the visuals. The story is quite straightforward, with the clear objective of the protagonists as well as the distinct classification of the good and the bad, it is more like the plot of a cartoon. Similar to Star Wars, I would tend to place it under the fantasy genre catalogue. As a matter of fact, sci-fi is never an easy genre to handle, especially for Asian filmmakers. Most of these films are big failures, like Hong Kong sci-fi attempts Hot War and Wesley Mysterious File. It is, therefore, nice to see that Yamazaki was wise enough to keep the sci-fi element simple and focus more on the visual pleasures and entertaining value of the movie.

Just as the director's biography suggests, Takeshi Yamazaki was seriously influenced by Hollywood classics Star Wars and Close Encounter of the Third Kind, and it shows in his movie. The eclectic inspirations can be traced easily. For instance, the tragic and hopeless future world is typically seen in many Western sci-fi novels and movies. The design of the alien seems to be taken from Independence Day, and the intimate attachment between Miyamoto and Millie should remind you of Leon: The Professional. Although there are not too many new elements, what is good about this film is the confident direction of Yamazaki. As a fledgling director who has only two films in his resume, the flow of his narrative, as well as his depiction of the characters, are way better than I expected. Talking about the characters, there are always more than one way to see their relationships. Miyamoto and Millie are partners, but they are also like brother and sister, or even lovers in a certain sense. The same applies to Miyamoto and the old woman. The richness and complication of their relationships allow more rooms for the viewers to think and feel for the characters. It is something I didn't really expect in a fast-paced and action-oriented movie.

As the main dish, the visually stunning computer special effects are excellent. Yamazaki is without doubt one of the best and most experienced filmmakers in shooting special effects in Asia. The action choreography is not disappointing at all. Kaneshiro as the action hero is qualified. But it seems that he is not really good at playing humorous scene. Anne Suzuki has done a fine job. Her articulations of emotions and gestures are especially outstanding. It is hard to believe she is only a 15 years old girl. Comparatively speaking, Goro Kishitani's portrayal of the bad guy is rather forced and blatant. His character seems quite flat.

Returner is a very entertaining piece of work that is highly recommended. The title of the film is well named. Returner, on the one hand, refers to Millie, the girl returning from the future to save the world; On the other hand, it also parallels to the theme of the story (i.e. the ultimate mission of the two protagonists). If you still haven't seen it yet, it is time to check it out.

Cool guy(s) - Anne Suzuki

Reviewed by: Kantorates