Review: Before We Vanish
Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, The Cure, Tokyo Sonata) took a departure from his horror roots in directing an adaptation of Japanese science fiction stage play, Before We Vanish, for the screen. In doing so, he’s created a story that’s at once tense and touching, and at times laugh out loud funny. Kurosawa mentioned in interviews that he aimed for the kind of science fiction story John Carpenter has made throughout his career.
That’s easy to see in Before We Vanish: in brief, aliens have arrived on Earth, taken human hosts, and have begun excising “conceptions” - the very ideas behind difficult words - from their unassuming families, friends and coworkers. Kurosawa approaches this conceit with an eye for its affect on the humans the invaders collect from, to both chilling and hilarious result.
A particularly memorable moment sees isolated invader Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda, possibly best known in the US for his lead role in 2016’s Shin Godzilla) remove the very concept of “work” from his host’s wife’s hard-driving supervisor. That supervisor is seen almost immediately making paper airplanes out of architectural blueprints and gleefully destroying the models his firm painstakingly creates for client meetings.
But the core of the film is in the conflict within Shinji, as his human host’s personality slowly returns to him through his relationship to his wife Narumi (Masami Nagasawa). Their dynamic— first strained, as Shinji-the-human and she were separated due to Shinji’s infidelity —develops over the course of Before We Vanish, and beautifully so. Narumi’s view of her husband/invader erodes from the cold, cut off view she first sees Shinji through, to an understanding and compassionate perspective. This happens, even as she fully understands what the approaching invasion means for herself and humanity.
Kurosawa has said he aimed for a Carpenter-like goal with Before We Vanish, and frankly, he nails it here. Before even knowing that was what Kurosawa was going for, I couldn’t help but find a parallel between this film and Carpenter’s own Starman, though Before We Vanish is somewhat less of a romance in its execution.
But that’s no knock against Kurosawa’s film. There’s an uplifting element to Before We Vanish, even as the proverbial bombs fall in the third act. The only concept the aliens can’t find a way to make concrete, and thus “take” from humans, is treated in such a way that on watching Before We Vanish, I found myself trying to describe it in my own head. But it’s such a concept that can’t be constrained or fenced in for easily designation, and it’s treated with a kind of muted profundity as to not be overdone.
The climax of the film is not terribly hard to figure out, if you’re looking to do that while watching. But I’d advise against trying, as Before We Vanish still manages to take a few turns beyond what you’d expect, and is no less impactful for it.