Cyberpunk Review » Returner

January 16, 2006


Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 2002

Directed by: Takashi Yamazaki

Written by: Kenya Hirata, Takashi Yamazaki

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Low

Key Cast Members:

  • Miyamoto: Takeshi Kaneshiro
  • Milly: Anne Suzuki
  • Rating: 6 out of 10

    Returner screen capture


    Overview: OK, so you don’t have a huge budget or any orginal ideas but you still want to make a cool Scifi flick? Answer: Just merge together little bits from lots of popular scifi movies, and make sure you get good actors with nice chemistry. This is in essence what Yamazaki has done. He’s literally taken E.T., the Terminator futuristic dystopia time travel thing, only he substitued Independance Day Aliens (and their technology) that look like E.T. for the exterminators, and a cute asian chick for Reece. Add in an asian mafia group to mix things up, and to top it all off, Yamazaki stole matrix-like action and cinematography looks to bring this project all together.


    Returner screen capture


    Truly, this movie has grown on my since I first watched it. And looking at it from a cyberpunk lens, it truly fits well. While on the surface, this idea of merging every popular scifi movie together into one might appear to be a complete and utter mess, but it sorta works as an enjoyable, present day cyberpunk flick. Even wierder than the grand larceny of the various movies is the overt nods to many of the scenes from those movies. Yamazaki isn’t hiding anything here - he knows that we will know he has stolen all his key elements. So instead of shoving this under the “plot” table, a number of the scenes are literally duplicate nods from these movies. This more than anything rises Returner up from the run-of-the-mill copycats to something more interesting - almost Tarantino like, but far more overt.


    Returner screen capture


    The Story: Milly (Anne Suzuki) is an average foot soldier serving in the last gasp of mankind, 80 years in the future where alien invaders have all but wiped out humananity. As a last gasp effort to save the human race, a group of scientists have been trying to develop a time travel machine to send someone back to when the aliens first arrived - they believe it was the first alien that called the others to destroy the earth, so if they could just go back in time and kill it, maybe the rest would not have come. Through an odd twist of fate, Milly ends up being the one sent back to save Mankind.


    Returner screen capture


    Milly hooks up with this two-bit hoodlum named Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who has devoted his life to avenging his childhood friend’s death at the hands of the local mafia. Milly coerces Miyamoto into helping her find the alien who recently crash landed so she can kill it. The story gets convoluted when the mafia gets involved - they see power in the alien’s weapontry. From there, the chase is on to both avenge the mafia and find and deal with the alien.

    Returner screen capture


    The Acting: Again, while this wierd amalgomation of big production scifi films could turn out to be an utter mess, its the chemistry between Milly and Miyamoto which saves it. They are wonderful together. On second viewing, I found I liked their chemistry even more. Also, the evil mafia leader, Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani) is pretty fun as an over-the-top bad guy. He does everything from blow away little kids, to engaging in gratuitous breast groping, to conducting repeated attempts at gangster coolness.

    Returner screen capture


    The FX: Even though they are low budget, they work. Even the matrix-like coolness effects work to some extent. The problem is getting around the obvious thefts that are put in, albeit in a different light. Its hard, for instance, to see E.T. as the bad guy. The surround sound FX are also pretty well done, with nice positional FX and good deep bass.
    The Action: Again, think Matrix Rip-off here, complete with the various high kicks into people, along with your average asian gangster shootout movies. We also get some fun little ID4 alien technology fights, force field and all. While not original, it’s at least consistently well done. And while the story and action are well enough put together to keep you engaged, again, its really the interplay between Milly and Miyamoto that makes this movie work. Their performances make you care for these two characters far more than you should. I would almost liken it to a Jonny Depp-like saving of the Pirates of the Caribbean. Also, there’s a wonderful little time-travel twist at the end which is truly heartwarming.


    Returner screen capture


    Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!: By the way, if you get this movie, for Godsakes, whatever you do, DON’T use the english dubbing. We’re talking 70s chop-saki bad movie dubbing here!

    The Bottom Line: Returner is one of those hard ones to judge in that it has some clear sucky elements (no original ideas, for instance). But just as clearly, the director both realizes this and plays off it. Moreso, the performances by the two leads make returner easily watchable. Again, fair warning, we’re not talkin masterpiece here, and had I not given it 6 stars, I probably would have dropped it down to 3 (meaning you either buy the director is doing the rip off in an intelligent way, or you decided this is just tacky in the extreme). But in the end I decided it is a decent low-budget movie that hits on enough cylinders to make it worthwhile.


    ~See movies similar to this one~

    Tags: cyberpunk movie review returner


    May 19, 2006

    radioman970 said:

    I just saw it for 6 bucks. Hell, a buck a star. :D I think I’ll nab it. I’ve never seen this before. So this review (and a few others) was a big deciding factor. Sounds right up my alley, actually. Although, I’ll probably have to turn the dubbing on because…well, I’m a fan of cheesy dubbing.

    DeadImpulse said:

    I rented this well over a year ago and I enjoyed it very much. I was quite a bit more enthusiastic about Returner than sfam but I certainly agree that it is about the two main characters and not the absurdity of everything else. Returner is definitely good enough that it deserves to be watched in it’s native language, at least the first time through

    SFAM said:

    Hi Radioman - fair warning - it’s REAAAAAAALLY cheesy dubbing! Like…REAAAAALLLY cheesy. Lemme know what you think after watching it. :)

    May 20, 2006

    radioman970 said:

    Hey DeadImpulse & SFAM!

    Hell, I watch Spectre Man and thoroughly enjoy it! The cheesier, the better in that case! :D It’ll be hard to not choose dubbing. I’d hope for a dub that enhances the movie kind of like Bio zombie does. Or just kind of funny. Of course, this looks like it wants to be taken seriously. The trailer and scenes online look excellent! And I usually go for subtitles for good non-eng flicks. Well, that nails it then, subtitles. But I will have to take a quick peek/listen at the cheesier side of this DVD after. ;)

    I’ll post right here about it! It might be a few weeks before I give it a spin.

    June 1, 2006

    radioman970 said:

    I viewed this last night and liked it a lot. You guys were right about the dubbing…should be avoided. The movie is geniunely good and doesn’t need some Gamera-type ribbing because of misguided cheesy voicing (couldn’t they find a better voice group?). I thought the touches of actual humor were well done. The old lady with the cigar gets thumbs up. :-) I thought the sort of 3-part ending, from when he walks slow-motion out of the building (which I was originally thinking should’ve cued the credit roll) to the actual final scene, were all appealing to me. I have hopes for a sequel since I feel this was very well produced.

    Really, the whole look of it kept me interested throughout. The leads were all great in their rolls and the effects were even better than expected. I did notice a few moments where the effects didn’t quite mix perfectly with the action, but it didn’t matter. Everything was eye-catching.

    The only thing I’d say negative was the word “homage” gets a bit stretched. Mainly the “Independence Day” stuff, which looks almost lifted from that film. The “Matrix” stuff wasn’t overly done, I kind of thought they did good incorporating that stuff. And the sort of Trainspotting moments were just fine too. Although, the little “E.T.” alien dude came dangerously close to “Mac & Me” cute. That was close! But it was okay.

    I’m shopping around for a big-eyed teddy bear like the one that girl was carrying around. Heh!

    Anyway, I think all the reviews I read, including this one here, gave this film what it deserved: fun and often pretty eye-candy, but not much more. It’s all about how much the weaknesses bother you. I found nothing that would make me reconsider this $6 purchase. Next time I watch it’s paid for! But thanks for the thorough review and nice pictures that show off many of the awesome effects.

    radioman970 said:

    Oh, one more thing…I was pleased that they came back and tied up some loose ends for us at the end. I’d forgotten all about everything they came back with. :-)

    June 2, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi Radioman, glad you liked it. And yeah, Returner goes way past homage - it’s outright theft in places - but at least they are upfront about it. Definitely just fun eye candy. But the two leads, I thought, really made the movie worthwhile.

    June 15, 2006

    radioman970 said:

    Me too. A weakness with the leads probably would’ve sunk the film. Shows that it wasn’t the nice effects. I actually did like the story bits though. Time travel stuff can still work pretty good if you ask me.

    Btw, I meant “roles” instead of “rolls”. I think I was hungry when I typed my original comments. :D

    January 24, 2007



    July 4, 2007

    ANNE SUZUKI said:


    April 26, 2008

    lilsweetdarkangel said:

    ii remember watching this mOvie years before :O hahaha so this is the title :D ii dont nOe but I really liked this movie

    September 4, 2008

    Mr No1 said:

    This film was on TV last nite so I wacthed it since I remembered reading this review and finding it interesting enough.

    Now, first thing I don’t understand… where are the cyberpunk elements here? 0_0 This is just an average action/sci-fi movie?

    Anyway, yeah, you are very generous giving this a 6 SFAM. It was more entertaining than Natural City, but still nothing too new, original or well executed. A 5 would have been more than enough, I believe.

    I found the FX pretty good nevertheless, even though the only part I really liked from the film were the last 5 minutes.

    Alas, just my opinion. I wouldn’t buy this.

    August 8, 2009

    u64 said:

    I give it 5/10. Mostly for effort. It has a few really sweet moments. Had they polished it and replaced some cheeze parts with proper action it could have gotten much higher.

    I _like_ that they steal from other movies, good ideas are meant to be used.

    September 13, 2009

    chlordane said:

    I enjoyed this film, I wish it could have had more action, but it was worth the $3 I paid for it.

    September 27, 2009

    KOBRA said:

    I saw it some weeks ago and I liked it very much (a 7.5/10). the action is great, the FX too, and the relationship/interaction between Milly and Miyamoto is a highlight. It has a good dose of humor, too. A great action movie.

    THE BAD: it’s not *that* original, but it’s OK

    November 10, 2009

    Reptilia said:

    Funny that I saw this movie before I knew what Cyberpunk was… I think the theme is not that related…
    but I saw it on TV & kept me interested. Is more like if you like cyberpunk, you’ll like it…

    I’ll buy it if I have the chance…

    November 28, 2009

    fungifago said:

    This is one of the stupiedst sci-fi movies I ever seen, terrible acting, poorly written and directed and cheessy as hell! 3/10

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