I’ll be honest, when I first read the synopsis for BEFORE WE VANISH, the latest film from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Creepy, Daguerrotype), I was a little skeptical. The brief iMDB synopsis states, “Three aliens travel to Earth in preparation for a mass invasion, taking possession of human bodies.” I assumed the film would probably be a campy alien invasion film that would tell an apocalyptic story of the impending doom that an alien invasion inevitably brings, but it was more than that. The film explored the social constructs that make up the human experience, the significance of memory, and what it means to truly love.

The film takes place in a small Japanese town and opens on a young schoolgirl named Akira (Yuri Tsunematsu) who is seemingly possessed by some malevolent entity. In an incredible act of violence, Akira murders her whole family, supplying an extremely gory opening two to three minutes in which we see a LOT of blood. Unfortunately for gore fans, the blood stops dripping there for the most part and the film that follows is less horror and more of a dramatic study of the human experience. We soon find out that an alien race has arrived on Earth and they can only materialize by finding a host, a human body, so it wasn’t really Akira who slaughtered her family, but the alien who has found a host in her. Now, their goal isn’t what you would assume from an invading alien species, they aren’t here to destroy the human race by simply killing us off, but rather render all humans useless by “collecting conceptions” which means that they are literally stealing our understanding of every word and human experience so that they can better understand humanity, THEN they’ll take over the world. When they collect these conceptions, the individual whom they have collected from literally loses all memory of that conception, be it a feeling, an idea, an action, etc. For instance, one woman’s conception of freedom is collected, so she loses all sense of what it means to be truly free and resorts to serving anyone who crosses her path. Pretty deep stuff when you really stop to think about it. Akira isn’t the only human who finds themself serving as a host to these mysterious aliens. A man named Amano (Mahiro Takasugi) is “possessed” as well and finds himself a guide in a journalist named Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) who he convinces to help him learn more about humans and in turn, Amano reveals to Sakurai the intentions of the alien race. The final human who loses his sense of self to the alien who inhabits his body is Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda), the husband of Narumi (Masami Nagasawa), who is very clearly no longer interested in her marriage and almost seems relieved that her husband is suddenly not himself. This plotline is my favorite of the film because it carries the most weight and is heartbreaking to watch as their deteriorating relationship evolves with the arrival of the alien who inhabits Shinji’s body. The finale of the film is just as heartbreaking as the aliens proceed to collect the last remaining human ‘conception’ – love.

Although the film didn’t find a place at the top of my list, there’s something to be said for this look into the social constructs that humanity is bound by, and it’s interesting to think about what would happen to humanity if they were one day stripped away. The film felt a bit long and with a two hour and nine minute runtime, it probably could have afforded to shed around twenty to thirty minutes. However, the score, composed by Yusuke Hayashi, is something to talk about. The score gives off a total Danny Elfman vibe complete with that same kind of whimsy. It sets a really great tone for the film and makes the action that much more enjoyable. I definitely recommend checking out BEFORE WE VANISH, especially if you’re a fan of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s other work.

BEFORE WE VANISH arrives in select theaters on February 2nd.

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