Recommendation: This alien body snatcher is less a battle flick than it is ponderous treatise on interpersonal relationships and what it means to be human. It’s also slow and weird. 7/10.
IMDB Synopsis: Three aliens travel to Earth in preparation for a mass invasion, taking possession of human bodies.
The alien invasion is coming. They’ve invaded the bodies and minds, taking over three individuals in Japan as a scout force to learn more about humans. But what could have easily devolved into a B-grade, schlocky matinee fare, instead Before We Vanish is a story told at a very human level, leaving a wake of emotional destruction. In fact, the soft sci-fi logline and action packed trailer belie what the film’s strengths are: Investigating society at large and reassessing what it means to be human. Unfortunately, Before We Vanish does suffer from a few b-grade budget issues and it’s a tad long, but that shouldn’t keep anyone whose remotely interested in this Japanese import.
The film doesn’t lag on showing which humans have been invaded. Early in first act the trio is known: Akira (Yuri Tsunematsu), a schoolgirl with a penchant for violence, Amano (Mahiro Takasugi), a carefree and charismatic teen, and Shinji (Ryûhei Matsuda), a mild mannered salaryman living in the burbs with his wife. There are two other main characters: Narumi Kase (Masami Nagasawa) who is Shinji’s wife and guide, and Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) a journalist who acts as Akira and Amano’s guide.
Those who have been inhabited/taken over by the aliens act as odd shells of their former selves, guided only by their mission to learn about humans via stealing concepts like family, love, self, ownership, etc. This leads those affected down a deeply affecting path of mental disaster, leading to small scale societal collapse. Imagine if you couldn’t remember family. Not your family, but the entire concept of family. Or what the idea of possession is (especially in today’s society)… By stripping those of that knowledge and casting a shadow on the mind, the affected are left as hollow and incomplete people that mentally break them.
The story plays out in two distinct, yet fairly separate plotlines—following Shinji/Narumi & Sakurai/Akira/Amano lines separately. And while both come together by the climax in the third act, they never quite feel totally coalesced. On one hand you have Narumi navigating the life with husband she doesn’t know, learning to love again and to see the goodness inside, all while he’s leaving a wake of devastation around him. And the other duo, alongside with their reticent guide Sakurai, are treated more linearly, building an alien satellite all while removing cops and government agents. who interfere. Notably, Before We Vanish‘s shockingly violent moments come as a surprise after long stretches where the viewer is drawn into the vivd interpersonal drama playing out.
The film stumbles as it nears the final escalation—think more of a low budget Super 8 than Arrival—but nonetheless the journey that Before We Vanish takes one on is worthy, if a little overlong. But it’s refreshing to see a soft sci-fi concept like alien invasion, focus more on the human toll rather than the death toll.
Highlights: The violent scenes are spread out but incredibly jarring. The acting is well above the pay grade of this film.
MVP: Masami Nagasawa shines as a Natsumi Kase, a multihyphenate—wife, breadwinner, guide—who goes through a journey of discovery, oscillating between shock, anger, indifference, devotion, and disillusion.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Studio: Super // Release date: September’s 9, 2017 (Japan)