The Clone Returns Home
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from AnimEigo.
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Writer/director Kanji Nakajima and Executive Producer Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas) explore the nature of the human soul in The Clone Returns Home. The film tells the story of Kohei, a Japanese astronaut who agrees to participate in a revolutionary procedure whereby his memories and genetic information will be stored until such a times as he is killed on a mission. And when a space walk proves fatal, Kohei’s handlers initiate the creation of a clone which unexpectedly becomes fixated on Kohei’s most traumatic childhood memories.
Whereas I expected that the picture would offer up an examination of the nature of identity going in, I was surprised to find that Nakajima instead deals in topics of the soul, which gives the film’s philosophical leanings a decidedly mystical slant. The film asks whether or not a clone, replicating us in every respect, would be endowed with an individual soul. The answer they settle on is that the clone body, while perhaps possessing a soul of its own, acts as a bridge between life and death. The soul of the person cloned (once deceased) would be drawn to the clone body, watching over it as something of a guardian spirit rather than inhabiting it. And resonance between the clone body and the soul results in the manifestation of various mystical phenomena (that would have worked much better cinematically had the “soul resonance” gone unexplained; but I’ll come to that).
While viewing The Clone Returns Home, I found myself drawing numerous comparisons between it and the work of Andrei Tarkovsky. Its science fiction trappings are reminiscent of those of Stalker and Solaris in that they are secondary to the film’s thematic throughline, and the extended flashback to Kohei’s childhood is not unlike those stream-of-consciousness childhood sequences in The Mirror. The pacing too is decidedly Tarkovskyan in its stagnancy and is truly befitting a feature to which Wenders is attached, for his Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas is every bit as meticulously slow-paced.
Although stylistically in keeping with the films of Tarkovsky in many ways, the film fails when compared to the work of Tarkovsky in its explicitness. As indicated above, the philosophical assertions of the film with regard to the human soul are explicitly detailed by the film’s characters. This deprives the resultant supernatural imagery of its mysticism and denies the audience the power of interpretation. Another problem I had with the film is that Kohei (or rather, the Kohei clone) doesn’t really do anything until the last 20 minutes or so. Instead, things simply happen to him, instigated by those around him or the visions he has as a result of the soul resonance, and he’s just along for the ride. But there are ultimately just enough weighty ideas and beautiful images throughout The Clone Returns Home to counterbalance these problems, making it a film well worth watching, even if only once.
Special features on this disc include a making-of featurette, trailers, program notes, bios, and an image gallery.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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