Before We Vanish Review

Before We Vanish is a Japanese action film about three aliens who travel to Earth in preparation for a mass invasion, taking possession of human bodies.

The state and fate of the human race lies at the heart of Kiyoshi Kurosawa‘s latest disturbingly amusing epic Before We Vanish, a treatise of sorts on the subject that is arguably the director’s most accomplished work yet. A purveyor mostly of horror, his films have of late leaned more toward fantastical and mysterious, investigative of relationships and identity. Here, he explores more directly and deeply what it means to be who we are, and while he mixes genres and tone throughout, finds a greater message that leaves this experience one not easy to shake.

It begins with terror. A school girl named Akira Tachibana (Yuri Tsunematsu) arrives home, announces her presence, and a moment later, her mother is seen scrambling out the door screaming in horror before begin pulled back inside. Inside, the camera sweeps through a home of mutilated corpses, the girl tasting blood on her fingers before heading to the street, smiling as she causing a terrible auto accident. Meanwhile, there is Shinji (Ryûhei Matsuda), a businessman who seems to have forgotten who he is, hardly able to walk right, asking his confused and frustrated wife Narumi (Masami Nagasawa) to be his guide. And then there is teenager Amano (Mahiro Takasugi), a curious, rather direct young man who, at the scene of the carnal house, approaches Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) – an ambitious journalist – with a similar request, telling him directly, he is an alien and his species is soon to invade.

Before We Vanish (Sanpo suru shinryakusha in Japanese) and its brief gory opening does more than set a jarring start, it presents a worrisome expectation, a kind of first impression that permeates through the rest of the film, having us wonder if and when her travel mates might do the same. Indeed, while Shinji is not physically violent, he creates turmoil in his research of humanity. We learn that the aliens are parasitic, occupying a person’s brain, retaining language and concepts but in the process basically ending the existence of the host. He is passive but objectively forward with Narumi, she desperately trying to cope with a man exploratory of what he is while having no awareness of their relationship. With a touch of a finger to a person’s forehead, absorbing further concepts, he empties select abstractions and irrevocably alters them. This is both tragic and funny. It doesn’t work so well with dogs.

With Sakurai, things are darker. While he initially disbelieves Amano, he soon realizes that not all is quite right as the boy takes him on a tour of a world gone mad. He soon ends up with both Amano and Akira, dawning through their actions that they are indeed not of this Earth. The dynamic between these two plots allows Kurosawa to deeply observe humanity and ask what are simple questions with complex answers. What is ‘self’ and ‘others’? While it creates great distress in Sakurai as the obvious becomes all too clear, it soon does something very different with Shinji and Narumi. Drawing parallels to John Carpenter‘s Starman (and a bit of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Invasion of the Body Snatchers), what emerges is a love story on the run.

Nagasawa is the strongest here, her performance achingly good as a woman devoted to her once cheating and dishonorable husband who, through aliens, evolves into the man she’s long needed. Matsuda does well, too, in a role that could have easily toppled under the slightest scrutiny. While this relationship is only part of the story, the film taking on a much larger scale, with some ramped up action, it is the most well-constructed and impactful. Still, Kurosawa isn’t working without irony. Despite the themes, there are genuinely funny moments, commentary really, that often strike right where they should. This is bleak by nature and reaches an end that delivers on the promise but with a well-earned twist, if not a little on the nose. A thought-provoking, strange, and beautiful journey.

Before We Vanish Review


Director(s): Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Actor(s): Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Genre: Drama, Thriller

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