What’s on the menu for ‘Before We Vanish’:
Three aliens travel to Earth in advance of a mass invasion, taking possession of human bodies as part of the infiltration process. Along the way, their literal job is to collect human conceptions, in the run up to the eventual full-blown invasion. The twist? The act of collecting these conceptions removes them from their human victims’ minds, with devastating results.
Before We Vanish is more a horror/comedy/sci-fi hybrid than pure horror. Japanese horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure) directs, from a script he adapted with Sachiko Tanaka from a stage play by Tomohiro Maekawa. The film stars Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, and Hiroki Hasegawa.
Best scene (spoilery):
After disarming and then shooting one cop, an alien-possessed schoolgirl plunges her gun-toting hand through the windshield of the police car to shoot the cop’s partner. She then gazes in fascination as her wrist and hand begins to bleed. It’s both darkly humorous and creepy at the same time, which is as good a capsule description for this film as any.
Blunders/gaffs (also spoilery):
- A doctor in the beginning looks like he’s about 12 years old (but frankly, so do most doctors I go to these days).
- Some of the dialogue seems unnecessarily protracted and repetitive. It’s kinda talky, in other words… which is likely due to its stage play origins.
- There’s an overly sentimental visit to a church where a choir of young children is singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ (in Japanese, of course), followed by a clergyman attempting to explain what love is to one of the aliens (and talking directly to the camera in a super-distracting manner). It’s just clunky and on-the-nose.
- At one point late in the film, a possessed teenage boy gets strafed with a submachine gun. Yet he manages to shoot back, get up and drag himself around for another five minutes while bleeding from multiple bullet wounds.
- The lion’s share of the film’s budget is clearly reserved for the third act, where there are many explosions, a deadly drone, and some pretty good CGI. Pacing could have been helped by spreading some of the action around the rest of the film.
From the very beginning, it’s obvious we are in the hands of a confident, accomplished director. Kurosawa blocks and shoots scenes with creativity and precision. Before We Vanish opens with the aftermath of a murder, with a schoolgirl regarding her evident handiwork. She touches a blood-dripping hand to her lips to taste the blood, curiously, dispassionately. She then meanders outside to a busy highway, where her careless path eventually causes a violent multiple-vehicle pileup right behind her – and she never even turns around to observe. Instead, she smiles happily at the chaos she’s caused – and walks on.
“When we learn something, they lose their conception of it,” one of the aliens explains, as his host body’s zonked-out parents stare vacantly into space. “I took a lot.” Chilling premise: in the process of understanding, the aliens plunder and erase the information from their victims’ brains.
There is mordant humor throughout, as when two of the aliens interrogate a hapless cop about the concept of self vs. others (it’s borderline slapstick). And then there’s this bit of dialogue where a human and an alien discuss the coming invasion:
“So what happens to Earth?”
“Nothing much, really. Just humanity’s extinction.”
Yusuke Hayashi’s score is elegiac, effective, and for the most part surprisingly Western in nature. The cast is uniformly solid, especially Nagasawa, who builds a compelling character study of a woman who has fallen out of love with her husband, but is then lured back when he changes drastically after being possessed by an alien being. And there’s a late-film meditation on what a human being looks like when the concept of love has been removed from their mind. It will come as no surprise that it is not a pretty sight.
It’s a thoughtful piece of filmmaking. If you’re looking for some mindless slasher distraction, this is not for you. But if you’re any kind of student of Asian cinema, thoughtful science fiction, or contemplations of what it means to be human… well, then this definitely is for you.
Connect with ‘Before We Vanish’:
- Before We Vanish on IMDb.com
- Before We Vanish official site (Japanese)
- Before We Vanish on Facebook
- Before We Vanish on Twitter
Before We Vanish began a limited run in U.S. theaters last Friday (February 2nd). It is also slated for iTunes on May 1st (and we suspect it will be available on many other services at or around the same time).
EFFECTS (1-5): 3
SCORE (1-5): 4
OVERALL (1-5): 3
TITLE: Before We Vanish (original Japanese title Sanpo suru shinryakusha)
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2017
STUDIO: Django Film, Nikkatsu
MPAA RATING: NR (probably would be PG-13, for some gore and adult language)
LENGTH: 129 mins.
DVD? (Y/N): not yet
BLU-RAY? (Y/N): not yet
NETFLIX? (Y/N): N
WIDESCREEN? (Y/N) Y
IN THEATERS? (Y/N) Y, as of February 2nd, 2018 (US)
STREAMING DIGITAL/VOD? (Y/N) Coming May 1, 2018 to iTunes (pre-order available now)