Apr 27, 2019
Closing out the week with a film that I couldn’t get One Movie Spouse to watch if I tried. And that’s probably just as well, because it quickly descends into some bizarre territory. For a few other Japanese films I *could* get her to watch, check out “After the Storm” (Episode #031), “Oh Lucy!” (Episode #219), Keith’s review for “Shoplifters” (Episode #394), and Keith’s review for “River’s Edge” (Episode #443).
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “Before We Vanish”, the Japanese science-fiction thriller directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and written for the screen in collaboration with Sachiko Tanaka, based on the play by Tomohiro Maekawa. The film follows three alien invaders who merge with the bodies of Shinji Kase (Ryûhei Matsuda), Akira Tachibana (Yuri Tsunematsu), and Amano (Mahiro Takasugi). The three set about reconnecting to trigger the invasion, with the unexpected aide from those they encounter.
Body snatching films are another favorite genre of mine, not just because of the tension they can bring to film-making, but because the idea really gets at the heart of the mind/body connection, one which has plagued philosophy since Aristotle said that because we perceive and think, we must therefore exist, or perhaps more famously and succinctly by Rene Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am”. We still don’t understand the mind-body connection, and as neuroscience continues to expand, we seem to struggle with more questions than answers. Both body snatching films and possession films play with that connection, considering worlds where the two can be broken, and minds can inhabit other bodies. A concept that comes with big ideas, but today’s film goes one step further, as we learn quite quickly that the aliens snatching bodies are here to understand human concepts, and when they harvest these concepts from another human mind, the victim loses all memory of that concept, and change their behaviors accordingly, which plunges the city into a bizarre form of chaos.
The three don’t come together right away, spending the first half of the film attempting to find one another. Two come together pretty quickly, thanks to a reporter named Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) looking to get the scoop. Shinji is aided by his separated spouse, Narumi Kase (Masami Nagasawa). Both guides struggle to believe the situation, until they see enough proof, from the aliens themselves and from the ever-escalating military/government presence. The film score, during the first act, leans heavily on the science-fiction scores of the 1950’s and 1960’s, both the fledgling Japanese film industry of the time, and the plethora of US and UK science-fiction films, with sparse and exotic tones from physical instruments. Very well composed.
The second act accelerates the film, showing the breakdown in society from people forced to abandon long-entrenched social notions like work and possessions and love, a delightfully subversive film for capitalist society in general, and even more so for the socially structured Japanese culture. The guides struggle with helping to begin the invasion and working to stop it, even when it seems futile, and builds towards a pretty awesome final act with great practical and interesting special effects. By the end of the film, I found myself reconsidering a lot of notions we share in society, and came to appreciate how Kurosawa was able to make perfectly normal parts of our society suddenly feel alien. To top it off, the film has one of my favorite gun punches of all time. And you know how much I love punching!
“Before We Vanish” is an exciting body snatcher invasion film, that takes advantage of modern advances in society and film-making, while maintaining classic common elements from previous works. Kurosawa makes the mundane seem alien by exploring the larger concepts at play, and keeping the right momentum. Body snatching and alien invasion film fans should definitely check out this film, but know going in that the film definitely gets philosophical, in all the right ways.
Rotten Tomatoes: 78% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.5/10
“Before We Vanish” (2017) is rated Rand is currently playing on Hulu.