Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Sachiko Tanaka
Cast: Ryuhei Matsuda, Masami Nagasawa, Mahiro Takasugi, Yuri Tsunematsu, Hiroki Hasegawa, Atsuko Maeda, Masahiro Higashide, Takashi Sasano
Running Time: 129 min.
By Matija Makotoichi Tomic
Following the premiere at 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Before We Vanish continued its festival circuit at this year’s 17th edition of Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival. With budget as the one thing that shouldn’t give the organizers any headache, NIFFF had the privilege of welcoming Takashi Miike as the guest of honor this year, with not one, but three of his new movies. Fans have all the reason to look forward to these, while the sequel to Mole Song offers even more wacky action and goofy comedy, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and Blade of the Immortal are some of Miike’s best since Lesson of the Evil. As different directors with their own unique style and vision, it may seem there’s nothing to connect the two, but Kiyoshi Kurosawa, just like Miike, had his share of V-Cinema productions before becoming one of the best known Japanese filmmakers today.
In 2016, Creepy was announced as the return of the master – Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s big comeback to the genre that made him famous. After completing Daguerrotype that same year, his first movie shot outside of Japan, Kurosawa returned with another genre piece, this time science fiction. Again, rather than just going by the book, he offers his own unique vision instead; this alien invasion piece is unlike any you’ve seen before.
Though not without his missteps, Kurosawa was able to deliver in any decade despite the change of times, and it’s no different today. Based on a play written and directed by Tomohiro Maekawa, Before we vanish is another fantastic display of Kurosawa’s mastery. It is a story about three aliens that, nested inside their human hosts, prepare for invasion, a story that opens with a bloody family massacre and a cool looking car crash only to continue in a far less exciting tone, as a slow-paced thriller with refined dramatic charge, and a comic flare for good balance.
What makes Before We Vanish unique is, above all, the fact there’s nothing that much scientific or fantastic about it, except the idea and the story itself. Sci-fi fans expecting spaceships, creatures from outer space or tons of special effects could end up quite disappointed since Kurosawa’s apocalyptic vision comes closer to the one seen in his 2001 masterpiece Pulse, only less fantastic. Drive-by audience might find the movie boring and couldn’t be blamed for it, but those familiar with Kurosawa’s body of work will surely appreciate the way how he effortlessly transformed something ordinary into something, well, so extraordinary.
To add just enough spice to it, there are occasional outbursts of action, our teenage aliens taking on special agents that are on to them, or, in one of the best scenes in the movie, Kurosawa’s take on the renowned North by Northwest plane scene, reporter turned “guide” facing the threat from above underarmed. Perhaps these rare exciting moments wouldn’t be as effective had the rest been any more entertaining.
Rather an experience than a memorable slice of cinema, Before We Vanish is all about atmosphere, part of which is the interesting soundtrack seemingly more appropriate for an 80’s Hollywood movie, perhaps something Spielberg would direct back in the days when Dream Factory was still producing magic. Thanks to Kurosawa’s atmosphere build-up and skillful storytelling, two plain looking teenagers and a grown man meeting on the street become three aliens reunited for the first time on Earth, finalizing their invasion plan. The aliens here, using humans as both their hosts and their “guides”, need to learn about Earth before being able to invade. Taking human concepts by a simple touch of the finger is the way to do it.
Before being fully able to understand, they just roam around befuddled, gathering the necessary knowledge. Who better to portrait such a confused character wearing blunt face than Ryuhei Matsuda? This was his first time working with Kurosawa, here without his regular Koji Yakusho, as it was for his two young extraterrestrial pals, Mahiro Takasugi and the great Yuri Tsunematsu in the role of Akira Tachibana. The whole concepts looting idea, often leading into almost philosophical re-examination of basic human conceptions, seems at times naive, but is again quite beautiful in Kurosawa’s delivery. This is best depicted in the scene with Matsuda’s character trying to grasp the human concept of love.
Before We Vanish has Kurosawa written all over it, down to the small touches often present in his films, such as toying with lighting and shadow to accentuate as seen in Creepy, or the interesting slow-motion usage in the simple scenes of characters driving. Unusual, subtle and again, so distantly unique, Kurosawa’s latest directorial vision is undoubtedly a great one. The only question is, how many will see it as such?
Matija Makotoichi Tomic’s Rating: 9/10