London East Asia Film Festival: Before We Vanish (2017)

Before We Vanish by Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a genre-bending Japanese bodysnatchers movie that provokes an alien apocalypse on Earth.

The Bodysnatchers

by Alexa Dalby

Before We Vanish

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Its title translates from the Japanese Sanpo suru shinryakusha as ‘Strolling Invaders’, which would be more accurate. Schoolgirl Akira (Yuri Tsunematsu) appears to commit a gruesome murder and dismemberment of an elderly couple, leaving behind her a blood-drenched scene. The suspicions of journalist Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) are aroused. He hangs around to investigate and a teenage boy Amano (Mahiro Takasugi) who offers to help tells him he’s an alien. Disbelieving at first, Sakurai’s curiosity and pursuit of a scoop leads him to become the guide the alien needs on earth.

A handful of people in the small Japanese town start behaving strangely. Illustrator Narumi (Masami Nagasawa) is called to take her husband Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda) home from hospital, where he seems to have lost his memory and physical coordination, and tests have failed to identify what is wrong with him. He too has been taken over by aliens.

The mysterious aliens want to learn human concepts before invading, and those people who have been taken over by aliens download concepts such as ‘possession’ and ‘work’ from unsuspecting humans and analyse them in their own alien way. Doing so wipes the concepts from the humans’ brains: they are unable to remember them again. In some cases, this is liberating.

Sakurai’s behaviour and involvement with the aliens is at times inexplicable and film takes bizarre twists that involve an apocalyptic full-scale battle, and the downloaded concept of ‘love’ that’s inexplicable to them.

The possessed human actors have the big-eyed, flop-haired look of anime characters and, shot in flat lighting, are just as two-dimensional. The plot takes some unexplained – or inexplicable – twists. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s (Tokyo Sonata, Journey to the Shore) genre-bending comic thriller Before We Vanish is an adaptation of a stage play by Tomohiro Maekawa but as a film it’s way too long.

Before We Vanish screened in the Official Selection at the 70th Cannes Film Festival and the London East Asia Film Festival 2017.

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