Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

A few years ago, artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid hit the headlines when they undertook surveys to find out what the general public in various countries liked in paintings and then produced works representing these aggregates, regardless of how uncomfortably the elements included sat together.

This Japanese sci-fi action piece feels like an application of this postmodern, ironic, ho-hum method to the process of filmmaking, so blatant are the rip-offs of The Matrix - in fairness, itself, heavily indebted to Japanese anime - The Terminator, ET, Leon, Starship Troopers, Independence Day and half a dozen others.

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Miyamoto - note the cyberpunkish referencing to the samurai author of The Book Of Five Rings - is a Chinese-born orphan, now resident in Japan. Somehow, somewhere, he has acquired l33t skills, which he now uses in his quest for vengeance on Mizoguchi, the mad, bad Gary Oldman-style gangster, who kidnapped his best friend for spare parts.

One night, Miyamoto attacks Mizoguchi's people-smuggling operation. He has his nemesis in his grasp when he hears a noise behind him. Instinctively, he whirls round and shoots, only to discover his target is a teenage girl. Mizoguchi, meanwhile, escapes in the confusion.

Back at Miyamoto's home base, the girl, Milly, tells him that she is from 80 years in the future, where the last human survivors are holed up in underground Tibetan bases from where they wage a desperate battle against shape-shifting aliens. She has come to prevent the alien invasion before it begins, two days hence.

Unfortunately, Miyamoto is not convinced. This gives Mizoguchi, whose Triad boss is seemingly all-knowing and all-powerful, a head start on acquiring the spacecraft that has been secretly taken to a government research lab...

The biggest problem with Returner is that no amount of visual pyrotechnics - be it CGI, things exploding, shoot outs, martial arts balletics, or bullet-time flo-mo - can conceal the filmmakers utter lack of imagination and inability to grasp the basics of storytelling.

One reason The Matrix and The Terminator work is that they take time to establish the situation and involve the viewer. An ordinary man, or woman - Sarah Hamilton, Neo Anderson - is suddenly plunged into an extraordinary situation and, for a time, does not know what to make of it.

Here, by making the protagonist an all but superhuman figure, that process is fatally short circuited from the outset. Worse, the story does not even offer the illusion of a twist. Every point along the way is so predictable that one simply gives up caring long before the surprise (cough) revelation less than midway through.

Actually, I tell a lie. There are a couple of surprises, but these speak more of deleted scenes than anything else. Twice a character looks to be facing certain death, then simply shows up a few minutes later with no indication as to how he escaped.

Rather less than the sum of its parts.

Reviewed on: 15 Aug 2003
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Japanese futuristic action pic about a probable alien invasion.
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Director: Takashi Yamazaki

Writer: Takashi Yamazaki

Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Anne Suzuki, Kirin Kiki, Goro Kishitani, Yukiko Okamoto, Mitsuru Murata, Motohiro Iida, Kazuya Shimizu, Chiharu Kawai, Dean Harrington

Year: 2002

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


EIFF 2003

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If you like this, try:

The Matrix
The Terminator