before we vanish review masami nagasawa ryuhei matsudaYear: 2018
Director(s): Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer(s): Tomohiro Maekawa
Region of Origin: Japan

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 129 mins

Synopsis: Three aliens travel to Earth in preparation for a mass invasion, taking possession of human bodies. (Source)

If you think about it, who we are, the rules that govern our society and the emotions that inform our decisions are based on a very primal set of ideas, some of which are based on instincts which can’t be taught. These abstract impulses are what embody the existential focus of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Before We Vanish. Kurosawa has always thrived in the abstract, and this film is him doing what he does best, albeit in the form of a subversive alien invasion blockbuster. At every step, Kurosawa twists what we expect, blending comedic flourishes, humane observations and even romantic melodrama to give us one enigmatic experience. From start to finish, the film pulses with ingenuity, forcing us reevaluate the world around us.

An unknown alien species is about to invade Earth, but before they do, they’ve sent three ambassadors down, to prod and understand who they are about to take over. These beings take possession of three different people. The first is a young man named Amano (Mahiro Takasugi), the second a schoolgirl named Akira (Yuri Tsunematsu). Wanting to steal “concepts” (more on this in a bit) from those around them, the two enlist guides. Separately, and then together, they search for a third colleague who’s inhabited a timid man named Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda), much to the alarm of his long-suffering wife, Narumi (Masami Nagasawa). As these three aliens collect their knowledge, they create a wake of devastation and destruction, leaving their subjects literally empty in various stages of subconscious void.

The very genius in Kurosawa’s film is how it presents an alien invasion from inquisitive perspective of its invaders. These interlopers aren’t the slimy, bug-eyed creatures we’re used to. Instead, they look just like us, because they’ve reduced their human hosts to mere shells. By literally hollowing out their prey, these aliens steal abstract, fundamental beliefs about family, identity, work, the vast scope of love and more. In turn, this story illustrates what makes us tick, exploring the inexplicable traits that make up both our strengths and weaknesses. With such a unique fish-out-of-water story, humans are more mystifying than ever, and the mundane literally becomes alien. Paramount is Kurosawa’s hypnotic approach, knowing when to allow simmering tension to burst into chaotic action, when to laugh at our expense, and above all, prizing the small, intimate moments that make up everyday life and the interactions we take for granted. 

before we vanish review hiroki hasegawa yuri tsunema mahiro takasugiDissecting human nature in the most vivid way, is an ensemble that runs a wild, diverse gamut. Matsuda and Nagasawa’s Shinji and Narumi are the film’s heart – a couple who realizes they suddenly don’t recognize each other anymore. Matsuda’s Shinji is the most curious alien of the bunch, giving a distant performance that truly encapsulates who we’d be without the traits that connect us to those we love. As Shinji’s wife, Nagasawa embodies the hope, patience and love we all strive for, determined to make ends meet no matter what. Hiroki Hasegawa’s Sakurai adds a bit of deadpan comedy, acting as an aloof guide for Takasugi’s Amano, the most volatile of the aliens, while Tsunematsu’s possessed Akira gets all the best fight scenes, unleashing chaos on those who oppose her.

Like the aliens who inhabit the story’s main characters, Before We Vanish constantly transforms the deeper it gets. Starting as a horror thriller, then action flick and finally unsuspecting love story, Kurosawa’s film ends in a shockingly cathartic way, taking things from pitch-dark cynicism to utmost sincerity. With such a blend of extremes all deftly and gleefully mashed together, the film is one is as bewildering as it is satisfying, showing that human nature is still the most profound concept that any sci-fi film can ever explore.