Columbia Tristar Motion Picture Group has bought worldwide rights, outside Asia, to Returner, a sci-fi thriller expected to be one of the big Japanese films of the year.

Although Hollywood has taken a greater interest in Japan in recent years, the purchase by a major studio of worlwide rights to a Japanese film prior to its domestic release is unprecedented.

Producer Tetsu Horibe announced the deal at a press conference marking the completion of production on the film, which is set for an August 31 200-screen release through the Toho cinema chain.

Directed by Takashi Yamazaki (pictured), a CG specialist whose first feature, Juvenile, was a hit for Toho last year, Returner stars Takeshi Kaneshiro and is set in present-day Tokyo. Kaneshiro plays an underworld money collector or "returner" who encounters a girl from the year 2084.

Made by a consortium headed by Toho, Fuji TV, Amuse and Robot -- the production company responsible for such hits as Bayside Shakedown and Juvenile - Returner features 200 CGI cuts, far above the norm for a Japanese film.