‘The Clone Returns Home’: Sci-fi with a twist

CloneHome_JHKIn the world of “The Clone Returns Home” cloning a body is possible, but what about the spirit? “Even if you extract the memories and destroy the original body, the original soul will still remain,” says Professor Teshigawara (Toru Shinagawa, “Dark Water”) in a scene from the film.

“The Clone Returns Home” is a Japanese science fiction flick about an astronaut named Kohei Takahara (Mitsuhiro Oikawa, “Casshern”) who’s invited to take part in a study. In the study, a clone will be made of him and, in the event of his death, will be brought to life. Takahara soon dies in space and his clone is brought to life.

What follows isn’t an average sci-fi film. It’s emotionally heavy and alienates the viewer. Each shot feels like a diorama. The mise-en-scene is sparse, but meticulously framed. And if it weren’t for the beautiful cinematography, the shots would be boring. The look of the film is gentle, a stark contrast to the harsh setting. Each shot punctuates the emptiness around the actors as much as the actors themselves. The first shot alone lasts more than five minutes.

The characters are almost always alone. They wander a world of muted colors and haunting stillness. If “The Clone Returns Home” has anything to say, it’s that the human experience is inescapably lonesome and cold. But the fire to warm one’s hands against is family and love.

Through a series of flashbacks, the audience learns about the tragic death of Kohei’s twin, Noboru, a memory that comes to haunt Kohei’s clone.

The acting is extremely understated. Less is more in “The Clone.”

Oikawa plays Takahara and his clone excellently. Before the clone comes to life, Kohei is despairing and emotionally distant, but after the fact he is childlike and fearful, unable to escape from what he’s feeling.

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Dr. Kegeyama, played by Kusaku Shimada, is a relentless bureaucrat, the head of the cloning project. Shimada portrays him with a calculated distance and anger. After Kohei’s clone escapes, Kegeyama becomes desperate, and Shimada plays that well with extreme nuance.

On the downside, “The Clone Returns Home” drags on for too long. It sometimes delves into the metaphorical aspects of cloning without expanding on them. Where does the original spirit go when a body is cloned? While the film raises the question, it also answers it with a healthy and frustrating dose of ambiguity.

If you’re not interested in the bombastic action of “Ender’s Game,” “The Clone Returns Home” is the understated journey for you. It’s weighty and emotionally alienating, but the toil is well worth it in the end.

Title: “The Clone Returns Home”
Director: Kanji Nakajima
Release date: Jan. 10, 2009
Genre: Science fiction
Country: Japan
Rating: 5/5