Directed by Takashi Yamazaki
Produced by Akifumi Takuma, Toru Horibe & Chikahiro Ando
Written by Takashi Yamazaki & Kenya Hirata
Director of Photograpy Kozo Shibazaki & Akira Sako
Music by Akihiko Matsumoto
Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Anne Suzuki, Goro Kishitani & Kirin Kiki
2002/117 mins/Color/5.1 DD
1.85:1 anamorphic/Japanese/Japan/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment DVD
For at least the last 2 decades, Hollywood has been freely stealing ideas from Asian films. (I remember first noticing this with BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, although, it could argued that the film was an homage.) This trend came to a head recently with the remake of THE RING and the other remakes which have been announced. But, that's not to saying that the pillaging of ideas doesn't go the other way. This is certainly exemplified in RETURNER, a Japanese film which has just come to DVD in Region 1.
RETURNER stars Ann Suzuki as Milly (or Miri in some import versions), a young woman who has traveled back in time from the year 2084 to the year 2002. Her mission is to stop an alien invasion before it can begin. This invasion will eventually lead to all-out war between the aliens and the humans if Milly isn't successful. She meets a hitman named Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro), and convinces him to help her. Unfortunately, Milly's arrival in the past was slightly off and the aliens have already landed, and the evidence has been confiscated by the government. To make matters worse, a gangster named Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani) is determined to claim the alien artifacts for himself and harness their awesome power. It's now a race against time for Milly and Miyamoto to obtain the aliens and save the future.
The story in RETURNER is a clever blend of TERMINATOR and INDEPENDENCE DAY with a dash of FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN and E.T. thrown in for good measure. Despite the fact that nearly every element in the film has been lifted from another source, the RETURNER could have been a classic. Unfortunately, this 2-hour film is long on talk and short on action. That's obviously a shame, because no film should ever be boring. But, that crime is even harder to swallow here, because RETURNER contains Transformers! That's right, after all these years, someone finally incorporate Transformers into a live action movie. And the first time you see it (if you're of a certain age), the effect is jaw-dropping. Unfortunately, this fantastic concept is only used twice in the film, and is never exploited to its full potential. I mean, come on, Transformers, people! Another problem that I had with RETURNER was the Mizoguchi character. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but do gangsters have to appear in every Asian film. If this had been a Western film, Milly and Miyamoto would have been going up against the government and not some thug. This element makes the story even harder to get into.
The action scenes in the film are very well done and contain a nice mixture of CGI and martial arts work. However, there are really only 5 action scenes in the film, and the best moments are all featured in the trailer. (Which, I must admit, had me totally jazzed about this movie, so that may explain why I was so let down.) Most of the best moments center around Milly's device which can make the user run much faster than those around them. This results in some very cool moves, but they are mere moments in this long, drawn out film. I'd heard a great deal of hype concerning RETURNER and was expecting something life-changing. The movie does contain some spectacular scenes, but the overall result is one of cinema's greatest missed opportunities. Did I mention the Transformers?!
RETURNER warps onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp, but has an overall dark appearance. There is a slight amount of grain visible on the picture throughout the film. The colors are good and the fleshtones have a natural look. There is some noticeable artifacting at time, especially during the action scenes, and a slight amount of edge enhancement is noticeable. The DVD contains both the original Japanese audio track and an English dub track, both of which are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Both tracks provide clear dialogue and an awesome use of surround sound. The stereo effects are very good and the action scenes produce an admirable amount of subwoofer effects. (Especially Chapter 8) The English subs are yellow and very easy to read. Overall, this is a fine transfer.
This DVD contains a handful of extra features. We start with three featurettes. "Action Coordination" (5 minutes) features Takenari Tsuneyoshi, who discusses how the action sequences were planned and how the actors prepared. This contains a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage which shows the actors training. Production designer Anri Johjo talks about the look of the film in "Art Direction" (6 minutes). This segment isn't very in-depth, as Johjo discusses how the sets and props were designed, but it does contain some nice concept art. With "Visual Effects: Before and After" (8 minutes), viewers get a side-by-side look at 7 scenes, showing how the final film compared to the early effects shots. By far the best extra is the "Production Diary". This 54-minute segment is made up of behind-the-scenes video which shows how the film was shot. This feature is made even better by an optional commentary from director Takashi Yamazaki and star Ann Suzuki, who give us more in-depth information about what we are seeing. (This commentary is subtitled.) Finally, we have the trailer for RETURNER, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1, but is not 16 x 9.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©