Before watching BEFORE WE VANISH or reading this review of BEFORE WE VANISH, it is best that a bit of background be known of the film’s director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is better known in North America as an art-house horror director with films like CURE and PULSE both of which I have seen but have not praised. His best film to date is PENANCE, made for Japanese TV but screened here at the Toronto International Film Festival and also played at Cannes which won Kurosawa the Best Director Award in the Un Certain Regard Section at Cannes. Korosawa’s latest, BEFORE WE VANISH (Sanpo suru shinryakusha), is a sci-fi thriller that also serves as a story about the redemptive power of love, played at Cannes 2017 in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. Not his best film, but interesting, nevertheless. It should be noted that the film is based on the play by Tomoshiro Maekawa, and co-written with Sachiko Tanaka.
There are strange goings-on in an otherwise ordinary Japanese town. While investigating a gruesome murder, journalist Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) meets two aliens (Yuri Tsunematsu and Mahiro Takasugi) who have taken up residence in human hosts. Preparing for a takeover of the planet, the aliens are not only snatching bodies, but also robbing humans of values (family,
work, good, evil, etc.), leaving only hollow shells, all but unrecognizable to their loved ones. Meanwhile a third alien has taken over a man named Shinji Ryuhei Matsuda). After disappearing for several days, Shinji reappears, acting nothing like his former self. His marriage to Narumi had been on the rocks. But Shinji seems kinder now. As chaos ensues, Sakurai and
Narumi each must make a decision. Narumi’s, in particular, is heartbreaking.
Interesting though the premise might seem, bringing down an alien invasion down to the personal level, the film has major problems, primarily in the credibility of its story. The invasion is supposed to take place, masterminded by just three aliens who have taken over human bodies. Two of them need to find the third, Shinji for success. The conception idea is a good one, when aliens absorb a human concept from a human. But the film’s climax is silly and gets worse when the film concludes to a period of two years after the conclusion, when reverse conception takes place. The film runs into even more problems when Kurosawa brings in human values to save the world. Kusrosawa turns too preachy as well with a sermon on love: “Love never records wrongs; love never gets angry… etc.”
As talented as Kurosawa is and as good as his best films are, BEFORE WE VANISH is a major disappointment. Silly even from the very start from the way aliens inhabits bodies or captures conception, the premise might have succeeded in an artsy play, as is the source material, but moviegoers expect certain rules to be followed in a sci-fi alien invasion thriller.