Before We Vanish

The alien invasion film takes as many forms as the invaders themselves and their varied strategies, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Strange Invaders, from Under the Skin to Occupation, from Independence Day to Almost Human, but none are quite so low-key or frustrating as the subdued Japanese suburban infiltration of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Before We Vanish.

Screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2017 and now released on Blu-ray by Arrow, Before We Vanish (散歩する侵略者, Sanpo suru shinryakusha) is adapted by Kurosawa and Sachiko Tanaka from the play by Tomohiro Maekawa, the literal translation of the title “Strolling Invaders” accurately expressing the content.

There are three of them, the advance guard sent to perform reconnaissance and come to understand humanity in preparation for the invasion, taking over the bodies of three humans, Amano (Kamen Rider‘s Mahiro Takasugi), assured beyond his years despite his apparent youth, schoolgirl Akira Tachibana (Tokyo Alien Bros‘ Yuri Tsunematsu), sought by the police following the violent murder of her family, and Shinji Kase (The Raid 2‘s Ryuhei Matsuda).

His change in personality perplexing to his long-suffering wife Narumi (Your Name‘s Masami Nagasawa), the doctors are unable to explain his loss of memory or the gaps in his knowledge, but she stands by him as he asks her to be his guide, his behaviour becoming stranger as his “neurological condition” progresses.

Elsewhere, Weekly World reporter Sakurai (Shin Godzilla‘s Hiroki Hasegawa) is investigating the murders at the Tachibana house when he is approached by Amano who asks him to be his guide, telling him directly that he is an alien hosted in a human body and that the invasion is imminent, a story which Sakurai cannot turn down.

Like Kurosawa’s 2001 horror Pulse, the focus of Before We Vanish is on a few characters but they are a microcosm at the forefront of an impact which is global, yet with a glacial pace and the presentation of a bumbling comedy of manners there are scant moments which make the threat sufficiently real, the infrequent appearances of mysterious government agent Shinagawa (Creepy‘s Takashi Sasano) far more sinister than the lead trio.

The characters as opaque and vague as their mission, Before We Vanish does not even serve to hold a mirror to the contrary and self-destructive species the visitors are studying, Matt Haig‘s The Humans a similar but more illuminating meditation on the subject, the emotional connection of Shinji and Narumi which may sway events undermined by her portrayal as the idealised Japanese subservient housewife, devoid of personality as she mollycoddles her cheating husband and tolerates harassment at work.

While accompanied by the plethora of supporting material which is customary for Arrow releases, Before We Vanish is light on analysis of the feature or the genre to which it belongs, instead offering a barrage of over-enthusiastic promotional pieces, an hour long behind-the-scenes feature notable only for how much more vivid the colours are and a variety of post-screening cast interviews from across Japan and Cannes which offer little helpful insight.

Before We Vanish is available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films and on Amazon Prime from 11th February



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