Studio: Virgil Films
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Sachiko Tanaka, Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Stars: Masami Nagasawa, Ryuhei Matsuda, Mahiro Takasugi, Yuri Tsunematsu, Hiroki Hasegawa, Atsuko Maeda, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Kazuya Kojima, Ken Mitsuishi, Takashi Sasano
Three aliens upend ordinary lives when they possess human bodies in preparation for invading Earth.
Teenage boy Amano hasn’t been himself lately. Neither has Shinji, whose persistently put-upon wife Narumi now fumbles with a husband inexplicably behaving like a geriatric amnesiac.
Not far away, sweet schoolgirl Akira went to the store for a goldfish. She instead came home possessed by a presence that went on to dismember her mother. Not out of malice, mind you. Out of curiosity.
You see, Amano, Shinji, and Akira compose the first contact team of an alien race preparing to invade Earth. Before annihilating humanity however, they first have to understand it. To do so, the three body-snatched beings assimilate concepts such as family, ownership, work, and love from those whom they come in contact with. The downside, for anyone unfortunate enough to mistakenly engage them anyway, is that those ideas permanently leave the other person’s comprehension.
In the mix with the two men and two women mentioned is tabloid reporter Sakurai, who regularly wrestles over his role in the invasion plan. Meanwhile, a government agent works to dismantle the threat by slightly surreptitious means. As personalities change, exchange, or encounter enlightenment, everyone involved confronts an identity crisis that is alien to humans and interstellar beings alike.
“Before We Vanish” isn’t quite as quirky as it probably sounds. Director and co-writer Kiyoshi Kurosawa made a mark with dark thrillers including “The Cure,” “Pulse,” and “Creepy,” although he has also firmly stamped his foot in family drama and comedy across his 40+ film career. Kurosawa’s flair for horror flashes in setups such as Akira’s bloody abode. Music occasionally adds a tinge of madcap mirth to blackly comic moods. More than anything though, Kurosawa’s amalgamated mix of free-spirited romp, grounded introspection, and subtle sci-fi presents “Before We Vanish” as a food-for-thought film rooted in a surprisingly down-to-earth experience.
Silliness swaths certain characters while harrumphing humor peppers some scenes, yet the story remains steeped in sincerity. Most of the moments featuring Uzi assaults or other energetic actions, of which there aren’t many, mainly serve as smokescreens. Narumi’s ongoing struggle to relate to her transformed husband, as well as Sakurai’s reconciliation of his real purpose, fill the movie’s true center. Their threads pull tone back when it risks unraveling into inconsistent absurdity.
By the time romantic comedy misunderstandings and machinations of mysterious conspiracies play out their beats, “Before We Vanish” leaves its audience with questions concerning the human condition it had no intention of directly answering. That’s both the beauty and the bother of the film.
Each actor in the primary quintet engages by way of performance as well as personality. Their relatable natures, even the alien ones, run each role through a gauntlet of self-doubt, selfishness, courage, cowardice, fluctuating convictions, and every emotional state that can fit in between. Their collective capacity to convey chameleon complexities fascinates outwardly as modestly extraordinary fiction, but more importantly, inwardly as a reflection of ordinary existence.
Divots on that green come from the storytelling style’s overly ambling approach. “Before We Vanish” finds components for constructing its core as it goes along, figuring out what it wants to say before understanding how to say it. Without doubling back to excise fat, the runtime bloats to a rotund two hour and ten minute total. Attention spans really start succumbing to malnourishment down the backstretch, ironically when momentum hits a high point.
There couldn’t be a more unfortunate time for a chugging rhythm to take its toll too. For all of the opportunities spent flirting with explosiveness or cynicism-inspired laughter, “Before We Vanish” winds down to a peacefully pondered conclusion. Yet the roundabout route to this sensitive sentiment makes so many sedentary stops along the way, many passengers may physically or mentally depart before caring to dissect the main message.
I can’t tell if I’ve compartmentalized the movie correctly or offered a fair summation of its substance. “Before We Vanish” is a unique motion picture built by atypical characteristics determined to bounce away from convention. Should I need to attach one more advisement, know that the subject matter may suggest something more fantastic than the movie means to be. It meanders too much to earn universal appeal, though those looking past its love handles can find an intriguingly offbeat experience they most likely were not expecting.
NOTE: The film’s Japanese title is “Sanpo suru shinryakusha.”
Review Score: 65