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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Japanese: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, Spanish, Italian, Czech, Dutch, Arabic, Croatian, Danish, Finnish, Bulgarian
  Extras
  • 3 Theatrical trailer

Returner

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 112 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Balls to the wall, gravity-defying action is the bread and butter of the Asian film industry; an industry whose movie going public consider positively art-house a film that keeps its leads firmly on the ground, or the body count less than the population of Sydney. It’s also an industry that unashamedly ‘borrows’ from its trans-Pacific competition, a trait that has only just begun being redressed by Hollywood - albeit with remarkable gusto. And while these qualities are more often associated with the amazingly prolific Hong Kong film industry, the Japanese can also belt out a good ‘un if so inclined. It’s a talent for action that started with the likes of Kurasawa and has been continually evolving (pulpifying) through Godzilla monster movies, countless anime productions and the development of kick-arse video games.

In Returner, Takeshi Kaneshiro - the face of game franchise Onimusha - stars as Miyamoto, a gun-toting, black leather coat-wearing, mean motor-scooter (with the requisite boyish good looks) whose only aim in life is to dispose of triad hard-man and certified evil bastard Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani). Mizoguchi, it seems, did Miyamoto wrong in the distant past, and Miyamoto wants his blood. Miyamoto’s vendetta is put on hold, however, when a young girl called Milly (Anne Suzuki) drops unexpectedly into his life. This youngster, on a mission from the future (sic), informs Miyamoto that aliens are landing on Earth at any minute and, if she doesn’t kill them, the planet is toast. Scoff as he might, Miyamoto has no choice but to help Milly, and in pursuit of the aliens and their craft, the pair seem to run into nemesis Mizoguchi with alarming regularity…

A film from Japanese director Takashi Yamazaki (who has himself directed video games), Returner is a post-Matrix, sci-fi action film that draws inspiration from both the aforementioned, distinctly Japanese influences, as well as from a vast selection of western sci-fi classics. While the influence of anime and Japanese monster movies lends the film an enjoyable, quintessentially Japanese tone, nearly every key scene has been pilfered from Hollywood. Contributors include Independence Day, The Terminator, Star Wars, ET and even The Professional, and while ordinarily I wouldn’t object to a little poetic license in the blatant rehashing of scenes (typically the action quotient is so high it’s easy to overlook such things) the level of action payoff to borrowed scene is just too low. Rather than homage, we are left feeling like we’ve seen it all before.

While there are several impressive set pieces containing fluid, gun-toting action, these are far too few and far between. Dreadfully slow in places, the film takes too much time letting Anne Suzuki pout like a six year-old boy, too much time letting Miyamoto strut around like a pop idol, and takes forever to establish the all-important dynamic between the two. And while their acting is fine (given the material) these two main characters are far too bloody, well, nice for their own good. One of them is a murderous, gun-toting mercenary for God's sake! Impressive in all respects, however, is Goro Kishitani’s psychopathic antagonist. Goro and his manic grin aren’t against blowing a hole in anyone or anything, and they easily steal every scene they are in.

Supporting these three leads are a ridiculously unconvincing group of CGI effects and human extras. Now, I know that the body count in the film is reasonably high, but how hard is it to believably fall to the ground dead? Dying extras are the foundation of such films, but I’ve honestly never seen a more pathetic bunch of cannon fodder in all my life. The CGI, meanwhile, looks decidedly tacked on; the superimposition onto the original film stock far too obvious most of the time, and this includes all-important elements such as explosions. Unfortunately, these few issues spoiled my ultimate enjoyable of Returner. If you are a fan of Asian action films, or Japanese action films in particular, and your standards aren’t too high, you just might get a kick out of it. But I definitely suggest renting before buying – otherwise ‘Returner’ may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  Video
Contract

Whilst suffering a few minor niggles, Columbia’s anamorphic (1.85:1) transfer of Returner is quite acceptable indeed. Taken from a crystal clean print, the image is nice and sharp, and detail abounds; both in the brightly lit and night scenes. This is just as well, since most locations are quite gloomy; whether the insides of container ships, Miyamoto’s poorly lit hovel, the smoky shop inhabited by Miyamoto’s Chinese informant, or the bowels of a deserted oil rig. These same gloomy locations mean that a small level of film-grain can be seen in the background of most scenes. There’s also a hint of aliasing now and again – moiré on the ribs on Milly’s jumper for example – but this is more a function of the depth of detail and the sharpness of the image than anything else. Interestingly, a very subdued, almost sepia palette has been used throughout; lending the image quite a grungy, grimy tone that suits the gangland and apocalyptic-future aspects of the film perfectly. Miyamoto’s apartment is all greys and browns, and even the exterior shots have had most of the blue taken out of them. Interestingly, the protagonists all wear black while uber-villian Mizoguchi, with his bleached spiky hair, is the only character to dress in light colours.

In general the compression process has been handled well by Columbia. The many instances of smoke and haze are delivered without a hint of posterisation, and while a little macroblocking has crept into one or two gloomy backgrounds, it is only in areas where the level of detail is low – on walls for example. It’s a small point and occurs very infrequently, but I feel duty-bound to mention it!

There’s also lots of CGI in the film; some of it done well and some of it not so. The Daggra (the film’s alien invaders) are cunning critters – able (in the best Japanese tradition) to transform themselves into machines such as jumbo jets to camouflage themselves - and these transformations look more like a video game than anything approaching real-life. So too the daggra themselves, in their armoured battle suits and pulse weapons, are fairly uninspiring. Their gun-blasts and the resulting explosions looking superimposed in the extreme.

  Audio
Contract

In terms of audio, Returner is shipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack in the original Japanese (phew) as well as dubs in English, Italian and Spanish. Now right off the bat let me say that, whilst a B-movie Returner may be, the English dub does it no favours at all; reducing it to cringe-inducing, unwatchable farce. If you take my advice, you’ll stick with the original Japanese soundtrack. Avoid these English subtitles at your own peril!

That being said, the Dolby Digital soundtrack is quite passable as far as sci-fi action films go. While no big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, Returner makes good use of all six channels to produce an at times aggressive and immersive soundstage. While ambient sound is reasonably low, (most scenes take place in desolate, unpopulated urban locations), some decent echoes can be heard at times. During the action sequences, surround usage ramps up considerably, with ricocheting bullets, thumping helicopter blades and the wooshing of streaking Daggra spaceships traversing the length and breadth of the room. At these times channel separation is good, with directional placement of gunfire and explosions, as well as swirling and stereo directional effects in evidence. The subwoofer is also used extensively, roaring to life with many an explosion, blasts of automatic gunfire, falling cars and the roar of Miyamoto’s big-arse motorbike (another Japanese necessity) keeping it occupied for the duration.

  Extras
Contract

Apart from a Dolby Digital trailer (the space one) there’s precious little of additional interest on the disc. In total, Columbia have provided only three theatrical trailers - Returner, Cowboy Bebop and for their upcoming release Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

  Overall  
Contract

Returner isn’t all bad – it certainly has one or two entertaining moments, but with a borrowed plot, a running time approaching two hours, and at times mediocre CGI effects, it just didn’t do it for me. Still, guns are waved about with abandon, there’s a cute Japanese girl, and there’s a cute Japanese boy. There’s bullet-time moments, Transformers moments and an underworld hitman going crazy with a rocket-launcher. As such, you Asian action-philes out there may well enjoy cuddling on the lounge (with a six-pack) on a rainy Sunday afternoon and giving it a spin. You might get a kick out of it, but then again you might not. There’s certainly plenty of better examples of the genre out there already.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=3255
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      And I quote...
    "What's in a title? Returner may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy… "
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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