Half-Japanese/half-Taiwanese film icon Takeshi Kaneshiro--Asia's answer to Tom Cruise--stars as a Chow Yun-fat-style street mercenary whose longstanding vendetta against a ruthless Triad enforcer (Goro Kishitani) instead becomes a battle for the future of the human race when they end up on opposite ends of the mission of a female time traveler (Anne Suzuki) who must prevent a devastating future war with an alien race. It's a fascinating formula, actually, that plays like a John Woo movie superimposed on a "Terminator"/"Independence Day"/"Men in Black" hybrid and infused with an anime heart.
In addition to writing and directing, veteran effects man Yamazaki also oversaw the film's extensive CGI work which, even by Hollywood standards, is dazzling. Indeed, there's no question that "Returner" is intended to be a Hollywood calling card--and, for a fraction of a Hollywood budget, Yamazaki has delivered a nail-biting spectacular that is accomplished and engaging, filled with eye-popping set pieces and intelligently speckled with crowd-pleasing twists and turns. That's not to say that "Returner" has no drawbacks--it's a good bit longer than it needs to be and waxes a little too philosophical for mainstream American tastes, though on the upside, Yamazaki's script does a far more intelligent job of handling the inherent time-travel paradoxes than even the comparably-themed "Terminator" series.
The trick, of course, will be to convince subtitle-phobic American action fans that "Returner" is worth their time and money. It's a lofty goal, to be sure, but, given the growing saturation of anime-culture in the United States, by no means an unattainable one. Starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, Anne Suzuki, Goro Kishitani and Kirin Kiki. Directed by Takashi Yamazaki. Written by Takashi Yamazaki and Kenya Hirata. Produced by Akifumi Takuma, Toru Horibe and Chikahiro Ando. A Samuel Goldwyn release. Action/Science Fiction. Japanese-language; subtitled. Rated R for violence. Running time: 118 min