Having tackled different genres over the years, Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa will probably be more recognised for his horror films. Among them 1997’s crime horror/thriller, Cure, 2005’s murder mystery, Reincarnation and 2001’s internet-inspired, science-fiction horror, Pulse. But with 2017’s Before We Vanish, the prolific director had decided to tackle the alien invasion movie this time but in his own way, looking at humanity, relationships and the collective brainwashing of society. Kurosawa takes us on an intelligent and compelling journey as he goes for a less is more approach to the alien invasion movie. Skyline, fortunately, this is not.
Beginning quite ominously with the first scene involving a schoolgirl walking into a strangers house. This particular scene ends with said schoolgirl walking in the middle of the road, covered in blood as cars swerve to avoid her. As she walks onwards, grinning towards the camera as a lorry crashes behind her, you get the feeling that you are about to watch something quite different but also, possibly, quite brilliant.
The alien invasion itself is something that is clearly going to take place gradually. So, as opposed to a series of ships hovering above major cities a la 1996’s Independence Day, the aliens are going to possess a few human bodies first and rob their hosts of their very being; their ability to think straight and the essence of things that keep them alive, their thoughts and feelings and the human condition in order to know and understand humans before taking over the world. They leave their hosts and those that get in their way in a catatonic state as the day of the invasion grows near.
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But as the aliens find out on their mission, life on Earth is never easy. The same goes for the thoughts and feelings of human beings. The main case in point for this being Narumi (Masami Nagasawa) whose husband Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda) becomes one of the three alien hosts. At first, Narumi has no idea what has happened to Shinji, the doctors struggling to diagnose anything specific. As time goes on Narumi has to decide if she wants to fight to save the world or stay with Shinji as he battles to find the humanity still within himself.
The above is a prime example of Kurosawa using family drama within a science-fiction or horror context to make you feel, bond or at least have some form of relationship with the characters, in one way or another, dragging it from standard alien invasion movie into something that is unmistakably his and something altogether more interesting. Along with the other alien characters, including Yuri Tsunematsu’s aforementioned schoolgirl, Akira Tachibana, they have their minds stuck on the end game; the invasion and subsequent taking over of the world. They are not particularly likeable characters but that’s not the intention here. They are almost robotic at times as they figure out how humans, and humanity itself, works. As if understanding them will somehow benefit their mission.
In amongst that drama element, however, Before We Vanish does have it’s share of exciting moments to accompany the impending doom of an alien invasion. On their journey, the aliens do get into some trouble and there are, almost inevitably, people on their trail (understandable really, considering the way Akira introduced herself to us!) but that gives us a chance to see the aliens strength and fighting skills and as time goes on it looks like the Earth will have to accept that it’s going to be invaded and taken over pretty soon. But as the final scenes between Narumi and Shinji show, the human condition, particularly love, can be as strong as anything that the universe has to offer. Or threaten, in this case.
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Before We Vanish not only has the drama, excitement with the occasional comedy element that you’d want and expect from a film of this type with the weighty ambitions like an alien invasion film might carry. It is also very well paced and put together. Never feeling to fast or rushed or confusing and at two hours and ten minutes, never feeling overlong either. The threads between the three alien invaders flitting deftly between each other. Thought-provoking and intelligent filmmaking that can also be witty, light-hearted as well as exciting when needs be, Before We Vanish is definitely something of a triumph for Kiyoshi Kurosawa and a must see for fans of his and science fiction/alien invasion movies in general.
Extras for Before We Vanish include a 53 minute making of documentary. Featurettes featuring interviews with cast and crew. Cast and crew Q&A’s from various screenings including the Japanese premier. First pressings include a collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Neil Mitchell. Add to that a reversible sleeve with new and original artwork by Tommy Pocket and it’s another worthwhile package from Arrow.
Before We Vanish is out now courtesy of Arrow Video.