You can think of Returner as a live action anime. The pace is very fast, the action quick, excessively violent and without an excess of gore. The side of good is earnestly good and the side of evil is irredeemably evil. Essentially this is a story about two people attempting to save the world against overwhelming odds. It certainly isn't a new theme for science fiction and many features and elements of the film are derivative but that does not prevent Returner from being a very enjoyable film.
Returner is in Japanese with English subtitles. There is no way for a non Japanese to tell if the translation is good or not but there are moments when a character will speak in Japanese for 5 seconds and the subtitle will be four words long. Such oddities do not distract or detract they merely intrigue the curious.
The acting through the bulk of Returner is superb. There is a sequence which is key to the story where the acting doesn't come up to snuff. It is in the Milly (played by Anne Suzuki) back story and is told all in English. It is as if a completely different director and cinematographer took over with a group of untutored western actors. Fortunately the back story is a short part of the film and is done well enough to clarify some of the elements of the story. The Japanese back story sequences for Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are much better and again clarify the character and his motivation.
There is a lot of good camera work, special effects and sound work in Returner. The best thing about the effects and direction is that it is practically unnoticeable. The talented Anne Suzuki is superb as Milly. Takeshi Kaneshiro is wonderfully convincing as a gunslinger and a good guy. Goro Kishitani as Misoguchi practically steals every scene he is in with an artfully relaxed and laid back villain who seemingly thinks no more of killing someone than he does of lighting a cigarette. Misoguchi is criminally insane and Kishitani plays it to perfection.
On the whole audiences will be reminded of scenes from about half a dozen Hollywood science fiction movies shot over the last thirty years and they may even groan at one of the cinematic references. These tips of the hat do not interfere with the movie and a very good story. Simply because something is derivative does not mean it is bad. If it is available at your local video store in the foreign films section this is a must rent and would be a nice addition to a DVD library that wants to break out of Hollywood only SF.