Genre: Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Action
review in one breath
Simply put, this is a very good movie which again renewed my respect for the ingenuity of Japanese film making. In addition to superb special effects, an excellent cast, and groovy soundtrack, Returner offers a veritable smorgasbord of storyline content.
By the year 2084, the world has been decimated by hostile alien forces. When the last bastion of humanity, deep below mountainous Tibetan monasteries, is infiltrated by the robotic alien hordes, a sole survivor escapes through a time portal and is hurled back in time to October 19, 2002. This Returner has 3 days to alter the chain of events which ultimately lead to the destruction of mankind. That original chain of events included the Japanese capture of an alien spacecraft and the subsequent death of its occupant. Unfortunately, that occupant played a unique role in the alien mothership's ability to portal out of our galaxy, so that once the "gate" dies, the aliens attack and take over the earth.
To make matters worse, Mizoguchi, a thoroughly tough-ass yakuza with Chinese associations, steals the entire alien project, alien, spaceship and all, and commences to bitch-slap our little E.T. around. When the mothership dispatches its hordes of machines in retaliation, the clock is ticking while our Returner tries to stop a war which cannot be won.
The Returner is actually Miri (Ann Suzuki), a cocky yet tough teenage Japanese girl. Her role as the Returner was unintended until the entire squadron of qualified individuals was wiped out by the alien armies. She "drops into" the world of Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who in his own right is a bad-ass, but is one of the good guys. As a child, he was an orphan in China, and has grown into a very adept hit man aimed at yakuza scum involved in child smuggling. On this particular evening, his adventures bring him face to face with Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani), who he vividly recalls as the kidnapper and smuggler of his orphan friends years ago.
In case you haven't been listening closely to what I have said thus far, here's a synopsis:
The yakuza have stolen an alien from the government which may ultimately lead to a war of the worlds. A young girl has traveled back in time and coerced the cooperation of a moralistic hitman to rescue the alien and return it to the mothership before the extinction of the human race commences. (Yowza !!!)
Several less sympathetic (and I say less accurate) reviews of this film seem to point to possibly borrowed themes from other successful *Western* movies. (?) For example, the simple fact that time portals are introduced is deemed a "rip-off" of Back to the Future. The notion that smaller organic aliens drive larger robotic mechanisms is deemed a "rip-off" of MIB and Independence Day. The presence of a time-accelerating bracelet which, among other things, allows our heroes to see bullets coming and thereby dodge them, is deemed a "rip-off" of Matrix. The general anatomy of the alien depicted is deemed a rip-off of E.T... And on and on and on. This type of trivial critique could easily go on ad naseum for any number of films (for example, was Independence Day wholly original in its conceptualization of aliens? I think not. Weren't all those aliens "rip-off" little green men wielding "rip-off" laser guns riding around in "rip-off" disk-shaped saucers? etc, etc, etc.)
And there's some pretty cool transformers action going on here too!
I was rather impressed by this movie and its storyline. It certainly maintains its status as action yakuza sci-fi all the way throughout the film and rarely slows down. When it does slow down, however, the characters can themselves effectively carry things along, such as in the scene where Miyamoto's home-cooked (tarako?) pasta brings tears to Miri's eyes as she gulps it down. Very nice touch. Throughout, the characters of Returner are convincing, perhaps especially Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani) who is just a peroxide shade away from Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) in Ichii the Killer.
The storyline also had enough twists and complexity that I came away with the sense of being impressed rather than merely going through the motions of the standard plot resolution. Plenty of Yakuza mischief. Plenty of Aliens. Plenty of (BIG) Explosions.
|The significant infusion of Chinese culture into this seems to imply an intended China release. The fully bi-lingual (Japanese - Chinese) Takeshi Kaneshiro stars in a large number of Chinese films.||Plenty of deaths by well placed bullets, lasers and exploding flying robots. Even little E.T. gets ruffed up in the scuffles.||When the fate of the universe is at stake, you tend to keep your fa shizzle zipped.||Chinese speaking yakuza hijack an alien and unwittingly start a cosmic war which only a cute time traveler and her way-too-cool hitman friend can prevent amid many large explosions.|