BEFORE WE VANISH
Directed by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by: screenplay by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Sachiko Tanaka; based on the play by Tomohiro Maekawa
Featuring: Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa, Masahiro Higashide, Kyôko Koizumi, Kazuya Kojima, Atsuko Maeda, Ken Mitsuishi, Shin’nosuke Mitsushima, Saki Ohwada, Takashi Sasano, Mahiro Takasugi, Yuri Tsunematsu
Three aliens visit earth and take over three human bodies to facilitate the invasion and learn about the life they are going wipe out when the invasion starts. To this end they take ‘concepts’ of aspects of our life, family, work, and so forth, leaving the human they have done this to without the ‘concept’ and at times a haunted empty version of themselves and at other times releasing the inhibitions that were holding them back. But one of the aliens did not figure on the effect of his ‘human’ wife, her love and dedication and whilst still trying to learn about humans and find his three comrades to start the invasion he starts to learn more about humans than the aliens realised.
Before We Vanish, is born of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Invaders from Mars, and a myriad of fiction of any format where friends, family and the public in general appear to be ‘taken over’ by ‘something’ and only a handful of people are aware. The classic paranoia induced fright-fest brought to the fore when the west felt anyone who was not tuned fully into their rhetoric was a communist and had communist friends hidden in plain view all around us. Although this paranoia subsided in subsequent decades the legacy it left has allowed films such as Before We Vanish and it is like to be made over the preceding years and be popular and usually reasonably successful.
The first act of this Japanese take on the paranoid invasion tale is the strongest. You are not fully up to speed with what is going on and the three aliens are introduced to show you they are three entirely different characters, despite only being human in appearance. To this end the film looks as if it is going to deliver an exciting and at least partially original take on this type of tale.
Unfortunately, the story seems to lose confidence and the story loses its way near the end, and I admit I have no prior knowledge of the source material but because of this interesting start I found this possibly more disappointing than I normally would.
The idea of removing concepts, absorbing them, from humans, only after they visualise them, leaving them confused, sad, or even happy was a strong, interesting idea that was not explored further. The aliens were always going to invade no matter what (apparently) so there was no obvious reason or motivation for this interesting act.
The acting throughout, from my limited knowledge of Japanese culture and expectations, appears uniformly good, with no one having histrionics or demonstrative actions that were not suitable to on-screen events. In particular Masami Nagasawa is excellent as the put-upon graphic designer who is married to ‘alien’ husband Shinji and the laid back and carefree alien played by Masahiro Higashide is a charismatic and fun presence but all the acting for me was of a high standard.
The real problem comes with the direction the film takes, story strands, particularly at the end meander and suddenly become unconnected and leaves the viewer confused but more importantly unsatisfied.
The ‘invasion’ such as it was a poorly CGI-ed damp squib and the final scenes do not truly click together with the story preceding them, which is a huge shame.
This Japanese alien invasion film is a good-looking, well-acted, fun and thought-provoking story that sadly fumbles the ball at the end and is a good twenty minutes too long. If the screenplay and direction had focussed on the third act and made the overall feeling less ‘baggy’ what was an okay film would have been an interesting and provocative science-fiction effort.