Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

RITÂNÂ (2002)

Returner

Known as Returner on English-speaking chunks of the planet, Ritânâ is the story of an assassin named Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who’s just minding some mobsters’ business on a boat when a young girl named Milly (Anne Suzuki) drops out of a time-hole in the sky. This unexpected occurrence allows the eeevil Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani) to get away, which sucks because, in addition to being on Miyamoto’s personal hit list, he’s also responsible for setting off an intergalactic war that’s still being waged in 2084.

THE STORY:
If you want to watch Alien, E.T., The Terminator, Back to the Future, Independence Day, The Matrix, and Transformers, but you only have 116 minutes, you’re in luck, because Ritânâ stole the best plot point or action scene from every single one of them.

Uh-oh, looks like somebody’s parents forgot to kiss.

To be honest, calling out the rip-offs makes it more entertaining (drinking game?), and just because huge portions of it are unoriginal doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of cleverness. For example, there’s a constantly shifting power struggle between Miyamoto and Milly because he’s the adult, but she has future technology that gives her the upper hand. She’s placed a miniature explosive on his neck that can’t be removed by anyone but her. This simple device gives them each multiple opportunities to prove their superiority, through wit, lies, and a little thing-a-ma-jig that can slow down time.

I’d say they ripped off Trancers but I doubt that made it to Japan.

There actually isn’t much time travel in the film beyond Milly getting Schwarzeneggered into the past to stop an alien invasion. While the ending gets a little chrono-philosophical (and has a couple badass time twists), it’s mostly an excuse for lots of guns, explosions, and bullet time. At the end of the day, it’s everything you want in a Japanese action flick.

This. Plus robots and aliens.

THE ACTING:
Four action character staples are represented here, and all are played just fine. There’s the impossibly durable pretty boy hero…

AKA “The Keanu.”

…the kid sidekick who’s resourceful but gets on the hero’s nerves…

AKA “That Girl From The Last Boy Scout, Maybe.”

…the villain who is legitimately intimidating but does weird things here and there to show he’s also crazy…

AKA “The Toned-Down Nicolas Cage.”

…and the cantankerous but ultimately caring older person in charge of weapons and gadgets (Kirin Kiki).

AKA “Q.”

The chemistry between Kaneshiro and Suzuki injects plenty of heart into the goofy action. When Milly plays a trick on Miyamoto, he screams in frustration, but also in surprise that she’s so clever. Miyamoto calls Milly “dumb kid” the whole time, but it changes from a complaint to a good-natured big brotherly nickname by the end. Their relationship is somewhat similar to Léon, which I suppose we can add to the pile of movies that “inspired” this one.

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Welp, let’s be honest here… the CGI falls somewhere between the first Men in Black and that “Tw-tw-twenty sixteen!” Ghana movie trailer that I hope never comes off of YouTube. Should a movie made in 2002 look like ReBoot did an Alien parody?

Okay, that’s slightly better than Beast Wars, but the key word is “slightly.”

Speaking of ripping off movie extraterrestrials, does this grinning booger remind you of anyone?

Ouch.

The time travel looks like your standard “jump through the thing” thing.

Whee!

So yes, the effects are ridiculous, but again, that just adds to the entertainment value. Also, the slowed-down-time scenes look pretty badass, but I can’t really show you that with still images. Oh, wait, check this shit out…

Eh, never mind, that doesn’t look like anything.

THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
While it’s not exactly a freak-out, Milly is suddenly hit with the paradoxical dread of wondering how she’ll be affected if the future is changed. After all, no invasion, no reason to send her back. While clutching Miyamoto on his bitchin’ motorcycle, she ponders one possible outcome:

“If we prevent the war, will I be sent back to the future?

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Ritânâ doesn’t make the Must-See Time Travel list by a long shot, but as someone who peruses nutty Japanese actioners on Netflix every so often, I found it far more engaging than most robots-and-aliens-for-no-reason movies. Its plot may be ten other (better) films in a blender, but watching Kaneshiro and Suzuki share the resulting milkshake with a couple of straws is both heartwarming and ass-kicking. Bring this to your next Bad Foreign Action Flicks party and enjoy the fact that it really isn’t that bad.

NEXT WEEK:
Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), Frequency (2000)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.