Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
US Rating: R
Canadian Rating: 14A
Rated For: Violence
Film Length: 116 minutes
Genre: Science Fiction
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen enhanced
Audio: Japanese, English & French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish & Portuguese
Closed Captioned: Yes
Release Date: February 10, 2004
Movie Rating /
It’s 2084, and the world is about to end. Aliens have waged war with humans vowed to destroy their existence. There is no escape from them. Hiding in shelters in Tibet with weapons of little destruction to alien artillery and shields, there is little hope for the remainder of human life.
The Time Shifter is the only hope they have left. It’s a time machine that will send a girl back to change time forever. She will find the source of the war - the moment that started it all – and alter the events of her history to save the human race.
It’s 2001, and Mizoguchi is the ruthless leader of a gang and the strongest part of a Triad. He kidnaps children and sells their organs, and has no sympathy for anyone who crosses his path.
Miyamoto is a one-man operation whose goal in life is to kill Mizoguchi for his past crimes that affected him personally. He comes face to face with Mizoguchi and is seemingly at the moment of success until Milly, the girl from the future, drops in unexpectedly and unintentionally lets Mizoguchi escape.
Milly (Ann Suzuki) asks Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to help her find a mountain where an alien spacecraft will crash land in a few days. He tells her story of the future, but he doesn’t buy it until she gives him some good convincing.
Mizoguchi (Goro Kishtani) learns of the alien crash landing and that the government is holding the spacecraft. He finds out the alien has destructive powers that if obtained, would let him rule the world. With Milly and Miyamoto now as a team, they will search out the alien creature and stop Mizoguchi from getting the power he wants. Their success is determined by understanding current events rather than the story from the future and by Milly learning a little history lesson about the true beginning of the war between humans and aliens. She realizes she’s come back through time for more than what she volunteered for, but is determined to make a positive change even if it puts her life at risk.
Returner is directed by Takashi Yamazaki and isn’t a blockbuster Japanese sci-fi film. It’s a silly story mixed with some great cover art, good natural action sequences (little use of a wire), and some cheesy CGI effects. Too much of the film relies on low grade CGI and makes this movie look more like a kid’s TV show rather than a feature film. The film’s story and design isn’t entirely original either as influences of films such as The Terminator, Independence Day, E.T., and Aliens ran through my mind while watching it. It's still an entertaining film but its believability is pretty low and accompanied by poor acting, especially noticeable from those speaking English. It was as corny as things got. There are some noteworthy scenes though, particularly tied to the ending and about time travel. If you didn’t catch the sequence you’d miss out entirely until the last minute. A pretty cool moment, but don’t worry, if you don’t catch it you won’t miss out on the rest of the story.
Video Quality? /
Despite being mastered in High Definition, this is a low contrast film that is dim and flat looking throughout. There is no real sense of three dimensionality because of the softer looking image and the colouring of this film. Any original colour in this film is pulled out and has been coloured brown, red, purple, or completely desaturated. Some sunsets are way too red it looks purple and skin tones almost never look right except for some present day interior shots.
Scenes inside Miyamoto’s apartment are a cool blue and are washed out suffering from a raised black level. This takes away a sense of depth and noise is seen throughout. In some nighttime scenes there is some deep blacks and it’s hard to see in them though as it all meshes into one block of black. Scenes from the future are good examples of this effect while inside of the shelters. I wish there were some good things to say about this picture’s quality, but I really didn’t note anything that stood out. The image is by far not the worst I’ve seen. It is completely viewable because its stylized to be these colours as seen in the special features. It is my opinion that this recolouring was overemphasized and unnatural looking and made viewing this film a strange experience. The video is in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is widescreen enhanced.
Audio Quality? /
Returner is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround. There is a wide soundstage up front with a lot of activity and a music score consisting of a variety of music styles, some as corny sounding as the film itself. The music is recorded a lot lower in level than the rest of the soundtrack so it does get drowned out many times.
There frequency response of this soundtrack has some good range to it, not sounding restricted for sound effects believability. Only sometimes does it sound dynamically compressed. An effect such as gunshots compared to other sounds happening is a good example of this. The main channels are used the most with little surround activity offering interesting sound effects placement. LFE is limited, as well as bass in the rest of the channels, but because deep bass isn’t present, it doesn’t mean this soundtrack sounds thin. Even the dialogue is well recorded and I chose to watch this movie in Japanese 5.1 with English subtitles. I did not view the English 5.1 track. Scenes that are supposed to be spoken in Chinese are dubbed in Japanese, and scenes spoken in English still have English subtitles at the bottom of the screen just to be sure that I’m understanding my own language. A little bit of background hiss is notice although is not too distracting.
Special Features? /
Aside from the film, this disc has a few special features on it presented in 4:3. There are three featurettes overlooking the action, the art, and the visual effects. All are spoken in native Japanese accompanied by English subtitles. The first featurette is the action co-ordination (4.59) in which the action coordinator talks about the actors really getting into their roles and how well trained they were for the sequences they were involved with. Next is the art direction (5.56) where production designer Anri Johjo talks about how he was able to bring his visions to the screen from art to motion. Lastly is the visual effects: before and after and is an 8m7s display of different scenes in the film in two windows. One is of the original film at the top of the screen with incomplete visual effects, and the bottom consists of the finished “coloured” look of the final film, emphasizing the intended muted multi-colour styles and the finished visual effects.
A fifty-four minute production diary is also shown with or without commentary by director Yamazaki and actress Suzuki. The production diary consists of collected behind the scenes footage by a video camera. Without the commentary there isn’t a lot of talking other than crew conversation, so if you have the commentary kept on (in Japanese, of course) there are English subtitles. If you turn the commentary off, at least you can keep reading what they say as the subtitles stay present unless you turn them off too. With the commentary running, the subtitles displayed, and Japanese subtitles displayed down the side of the picture too with all of the stuff going on screen – this feature will really put your brain to the test!
There are no DVD-ROM features on this disc, but we do get a trailer in 16:9 and DD2.0, as well as a chapter insert.
While not the best sci-fi flick around, Returner does offer some entertainment. It’s less than believable story makes it even more entertaining because it’s really not bad at what it shows us. While this movie does take ideas from other known films and put it all into this one, it is able to do it while adding its own originality for some new ideas. I would recommend this as a rental for those who haven’t checked this one out yet.