Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Screenplay: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Masami Nagasawa, Yuri Tsunematsu, Mahiro Takasugi
Duration: 130 min
BBFC Certification: 15
One of Japan’s finest directors, Kiyoshi Kurosawa made an international name for himself with horror, specifically with 2001’s Pulse. But he’s also tried his hand at other genres from family dramas to crime procedurals to sci-fi. With Before We Vanish, Kurosawa turns his sights to that classic sci-fi stable of the 1950s, alien invasion, and more specifically aliens walking among us. Faithfully adapted from a stage play by Tomohiro Maekawa, the film references classics such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Invaders and a personal favourite of mine, The Hidden.
The film opens with Akira (Yuri Tsunematsu), a schoolgirl in small-town Japan, who has vanished after gruesomely slaughtering her entire family. The opening credits start as we watch her walk down the middle of a highway with blood splattered across her uniform and a playful smile etched across her face. This hints at a terrifying gorefest to come, but this prologue is as violent as Before We Vanish ever gets. The film is a lot slower and sedate than its first scene might suggest, but that is no bad thing.
Before We Vanish follows three aliens who arrive on Earth as scouts for a planned invasion that will end humanity as we know it. They have taken over human hosts, but it takes some time getting used to their new bodies, from the simple act of walking to the more complex art of understanding. The scouts’ main mission is to understand what it means to be human and they do this by literally taking a person’s concept of a subject from their mind, which can lead to disastrous consequences for the victim. The three also need human guides to help them acclimate and achieve their goals, but that doesn’t go so smoothly.
Each of the three aliens have distinctly different personalities – Akira has a short fuse and is prone to violence, Amano (Mahiro Takasugi) is a casual joker who picks a nihilistic journalist as his guide and Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda), who spends the majority of the film isolated from the other two, becomes the most human, mainly due to the influence of his wife Narumi (Masami Nagasawa). The way each alien interacts with the humans is informed by their personalities and therefore teaches them that all humans are unique and have different experiences.
The majority of the film focuses on Shinji and his estranged wife with Masami Nagasawa really shining as Narumi finds her core values begin to change as she becomes his human guide. Shinji takes a long time adjusting to his new body leading to him being almost childlike for the first act of the film. Matsuda plays Shinji with a calmness that is otherworldly, allowing the actor to expertly use body language to convey his emotions and intentions. Narumi grows to love this new version of her husband as he realises he needs her more than just a guide, leading to a strong and believable love story throughout the film.
With Before We Vanish Kurosawa pulls off the trick of making you feel like you are on the outside looking in, almost as if you are an alien yourself and this leads to a strange emotional disconnect throughout its entire runtime. However disconnected you may feel, you are always aware of the danger of the alien invasion and the fact that many innocent people will die. This being said, although at its core the film is a thriller, it is mostly a character study verging into the territory of romantic drama.
With a running time of 130 minutes, some viewers may find the pace a little slow, and I feel like some of the later scenes could have done with tighter editing. The extended running time also leads to a lack of focus in the middle act, although Kurosawa still manages to keep the narrative rolling along.
Although it has its flaws, Before We Vanish is a thought provoking and intelligent piece of filmmaking, that is not afraid to be light hearted and funny when needed. It is a triumphant return to form for Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose last few films have seemed somewhat laboured.
Arrow Video once again have delivered plenty of extras to accompany the main feature including:
• The Making of Before We Vanish – This in-depth documentary looks at the origins and production of the film, reflecting on its relationship with the stage play by Maekawa Tomohiro. There is plenty of onset footage alongside interviews with Kurosawa and various cast members. We see Kurosawa in action, learning something about his process as a director.
• Inside the Story – A short promotional piece made for Japanese television and featuring interviews with the cast and crew, many of which are repeated from the longer ‘making of’ documentary also included on this disc.
• Inside the Characters – Another short promotional piece made for Japanese television, this follows the structure of the Inside the Story piece, again repeating some of the interviews.
• Looking Back – This piece features the principal cast reflecting on the production of the film and discussing Kurosawa’s approach to making the film.
• Cannes Film Festival – Kurosawa and the lead actors are interviewed in Cannes at the time of the film’s premiere in 2017. Red carpet footage, and footage from the screening is shown, alongside an on-stage introduction to the film by Kurosawa and the cast.
The rest of the extras are rounding out with more footage from various screenings around the world and the trailer.
Before We Vanish is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video