Today I watched Takeshi Yamazaki’s Returner (2002)
Returner borrows heavily from the plot of The Terminator, in that it is about a soldier from the future sent back in time to prevent an oncoming war of apocalyptic scale. This time though, the war is with aliens, the future soldier is a child soldier, and the hero from the past is not a typical waitress but a typical gun fighting anti-hero. The child soldier in question is named Milly and she jumps back just before the last human stronghold falls to the Daggra race. When she arrives in her past, the film’s present, she is on a boat being raided by Miyamoto, a gun slinging assassin vigilante type who hunts his arch-nemesis Mizoguchi. In the chaos Miyamoto shoots Milly but thankfully her body armour takes the hit. Milly knows that she is going to need help on her mission, so she recruits Miyamoto by planting a micro-explosive on his neck as a threat. Milly starts putting the pieces together as to what can be done when an alien ship crash lands on Earth, the first invader according to her, but at the same time the power hungry Mizoguchi decides he wants the alien to himself.
Beyond the aforementioned plot similarities, Returner blends a number of other influences together as well. The action and design sensibilities are straight out of The Matrix, as are elements of the soundtrack and all of the costumes, but in where Returner it differentiates itself there is something intriguing. The use of a child soldier protagonist for example is quite interesting and brings up a lot of disturbing connotations, perhaps too disturbing for how entertaining the film wants to be. And maybe that is where this film really fails, it has a straight to video approach to highlighting everything found even remotely entertaining. In my review of Back to the Future I mentioned how effective it was that the soundtrack played the comedy as if it were high adventure, but here the soundtrack plays up high adventure as if it were comic relief.
Originality is overrated and the way this film remixes the very common action movie elements of it’s time is perfectly serviceable. Largely I think this is due to two charismatic performers, Anne Suzuki and Takeshi Kaneshiro as Milly and Miyamoto respectively. Suzuki in particular has to deal with a lot of character baggage being a child sodlier and all, and I think she delivers a really admirable performance. Yet the film is held back by an overly low brow approach to it’s subject matter, personified in the villain Mizoguchi who is completely over the top and evil for evil’s sake in a rather distracting way. There is also the issue of certain distracting plot holes, Milly’s plan of going back in time to kill the first alien invader to stop the war makes no sense, and neither does the villain’s, in both cases it is just an excuse to put them where the writer wants them. But still, the film is fun, the characters at the very least work even if their motivations seem strange, and the action, while derivative, is also creative. The film just feels like it was not well thought out, it’s a stream of conciousness from an adolescent mind that just saw The Matrix and was totally blown away. 3/5