Before We Vanish
Japan | 2017 | D: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
When you think about Japanese sci-fi films, Godzilla and its ilk are probably the first things that come to mind. Or Ghost in the Shell. This film is definitely going to be remembered as such, but it deserves to be considered amongst the group of more interesting movie titles coming from Japan.
Strangely it doesn’t rely on the usual tropes you’d associated with Japanese media, except for one character being a schoolgirl, however she isn’t sexualised so it does feel like a departure from the norm. What we have here is a science fiction drama about three aliens whose mission is to conduct an invasion of Earth resulting in the death of humanity. Sounds rather grim, right?
Tough guys and schoolgirls don't look at explosions!
But its not. It’s quite entertaining, if a little on the long side, and tells a story you’d be very familiar with. Alien species invades a human host, taking over its body and seeking to learn what they can about humanity before they destroy it.
The movie follows two groups of protagonists. First is an unhappily married couple – the Kases. Narumi is struggling to keep the relationship together while her husband Shinji seems to be having an affair. We meet the couple in the hospital. Shinji has been admitted after an accident where he was found wondering the streets, suffering from amnesia. The doctor assures Narumi that his memory will return, but they don’t know that his body has been overtaken and while he has some basic functions like speech and movement – there are a lot of things he doesn’t remember (or know). Shinji seems to want to learn about why his wife is so unhappy, so he asks her to be his guide on his quest for knowledge. Fans of J-pop will be pleasantly surprised to see ex-AKB48 idol Atsuka Maeda in a cameo role as Narmui’s sister – whom which Shinji steals the concept of family from her.
Even though she wants to kill him, Narumi still makes the time to ensure Shinji's seat beat is on!
The second group the movie follows is tabloid magazine reporter Sakurai who meets Amano, another alien, at the scene of a brutal murder committed by school girl Akira, the third alien. She has gone missing and Amano needs to find her in order to commence the invasion. In return, he makes Sakurai his guide and promises an exclusive story for his magazine. While sceptical, Sakurai accepts the invitation as an opportunity to find Akira and discover why she killed her family.
I could see the police giving up information this easily!
As mentioned previously, the aliens learn about humanity by stealing the concept from people. When they encounter something they don’t understand, they question the person and convince them to picture the concept, then they steal it from them. The person then forgets this concept. It’s a situation that leads to a few of the films more humorous and endearing moments – especially when Shinji attempts to steal the concept of love, only to discover its impossible.
Online reviews of this movie criticize its length and premise. This is unfair as the movie doesn’t bill itself as a typical American sci-fi action blockbuster – but rather as a drama piece that sets to explore human behaviour and interactions, the concepts of human life and love. Worth sticking out, especially for some of the laugh out loud moments.