There’s pretty much only one reason to watch this film. If you happen to be of the male persuasion, then it’s going to be Anne Suzuki, who plays young damsel-from-the-future-in-distress Milly. Personally I’d never heard of her before, but apparently she was in Snow Falling on Cedars (which dang it I always meant to watch but just never got around to) and she’s got one of those sweet, youthful faces that kind of looks like a lot of other sweet, youthful faces you think you’ve seen before. Not that that’s a criticism of course, and she holds her own fairly well throughout this film, looking doe-eyed and pouting and what not and – Oh look! Isn’t she cute!
Ehem. Well anyway, if you’re of the female persuasion, there’s pretty much only one reason to watch this film, and it’s Takeshi Kaneshiro, who plays Miyamoto, a bit of a contract-killing, no-job-too-big guy with an attitude. Kaneshiro recently featured rather nicely in Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers, but actually is a little more accomplished than that (check out Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express or Fallen Angels and Hai Chung-Man’s Anna Magdelena for a good start). He’s got one of those agreeable, handsome faces, looks good in black and shooting at things, and he holds his own quite well throughout the film, looking charming and roguish and what-not and – Oh look! Isn’t he cute!
Hmmm. I’m not doing very well here, am I? Well, perhaps if neither of those are terribly appealing (or, uh, you’re neither a girl nor a boy?), you might find Goro Kishitani an acceptable point of interest. Kishitani, who plays resident evil guy Mizoguchi, is probably most quickly recognised for roles in Takeshi Miike’s Graveyard of Honor or One Missed Call. He’s a fairly accomplished actor, on stage as well as in film, and steals every scene he’s in (one might argue that’s not too hard) as he swanks around in cool suits and metes out bad guy logic with casual, sadistic aplomb, helping lift things a little above average. Or, if you’re like me and you get a kick out of quirky support actors, Kirin Kiki, who plays a nice old lady Sha who is secretly supplying our hero with medicines, tips, jobs and oh yes, large calibre weapons. She’s pretty cool too, also stealing the show a couple of times (again, that might not be so hard) as she unexpectedly blows shit up. Really, you gotta watch those harmless old ladies.
So yeah, there are your reasons to watch – What? Sorry? Plot? Are you trying to tell me you watch these movies for the plot? Oh, alright, but really, don’t say that I didn’t try to warn you. In a nutshell:
In the Past — Milly is sent back in time to save the earth. There’s this war see, where a bunch of rather angry aliens are trying to wipe everyone out, and the humans have worked out that the pissed-off-ness of said aliens can be traced back to a single event, which of course Milly is supposed to prevent. To be fair, the poor little thing wasn’t supposed to be the hero, but the more capable party met an untimely death.
In the Present — Miyamoto’s making a raid on a bad guy business deal and comes face to face with lifelong enemy Mizoguchi, who earned his ire when he killed his best friend. Refreshingly, since Miyamoto’s not law enforcement his choices are easy; kill the bastard. Unfortunately, before he can do so, Milly drops on his head. Almost literally.
Later, Milly spills her story to our big strong hero and also refreshingly, Miyamoto believes not a word of it. The rapport here between obviously naïve Milly and cynical, man-on-a-mission Miyamoto is actually one of the nicer things about the film, as is Milly’s surprise mercenary streak. Remember, I said she was cute, not dumb.
And so, armed with a fancy array of designer clothes, weapons and rugged determination (or in Miyamoto’s case a desire to not have his head blown clean off) our intrepid two-some go off to fight the bad guys, rescue the innocents and save the world. Could this film have been better? Well, let me put it this way, I kind of wonder how it could ever have been a ‘Japanese box office smash’, but then again when I think about the quality of some American box office smashes, I rather think The Returner has actually got quite a lot going for it after all.