For his latest feature, renowned horror writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure, Creepy) adapts Tomohiro Maekawa’s play Strolling Invaders into a spirited, sci-fi body-hop drama with an Amblin air; innovatively instilling hope and poignancy into what could have been a template alien invasion picture.
Opening in the aftermath of a brutal homicide; teen daughter of slain parents, Akira Tachibana (Yuri Tsunematsu) suddenly goes missing. Craggy detective, Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) sets out to find her, with teenage oddball Amano (Mahiro Takasugi). Meanwhile, thirty-something Shinji Kase (Ryuhei Matsuda) loses his memory, but his wife Narumi (Masani Nagasawa) suspects it’s something scarier than amnesia.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Sachiko Tanaka’s’s screenplay splits into several, skillfully woven strands which make Before We Vanish persistently enthralling, thought-provoking fun. The story flips from crime thriller to romance, drama and then body-swapping/mind-wiping sci-fi, before alien invasion elements arise.
BWV is also made amazing by its innovative spin on a classic central concept as well as the mending of many sub-genre components. But it is not just the script structure that makes BWV so potent. The characters are flawed, thorny and affable, while sun-kissed settings and a John Williams-style score, by Yusuke Hayashi, alleviate the gloomy mood and doomsday notions, along with the employment of lens flare as a visual effect/plot device and Spielberg/J.J./genre nod.
Kurosawa discards the kind of clichés, tent-poles and stereotypes one could imagine corrupting a big budget remake, green-lit by dollar-eyed studio execs and executed by a hack. Government/conspiratorial facets, including a ‘men in black’ sub-plot along with Japanese/US military and a clandestine astrophysicist character, seem like the kind of components extrapolated by Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay in a generic disaster, sci-fi action yarn, but here they are secondary and serve to complement the character drama.
Similarly, alien antagonists, typically presented as invincible supervillains, here seem docile and dim-witted, despite being biologically advanced with the ability to tap into neural networks, hijack concepts and render victims lost, perplexed or enlightened. This makes for riveting viewing: as characters lose their understanding of possession, ownership, employment etc., while aliens come to terms with them.
In its plot concept intricacies, BWV becomes fascinating. The manner in which it makes viewers and characters question insights into the human condition helps the story harvest heart, before culminating in a heart-breaking and beautiful final scene, showing people uniting and falling apart. This, alongside stunning performances, makes Before We Vanish a mystical, affectionate and nostalgic ode to 1980s sci-fi, that’s a must for both genre fans and general film lovers alike.
The Blu-ray Special Features include a fascinating hour-long Making Of documentary featuring behind the scenes footage with talking head interviews and pre-VFX added green screen scenes, which augment the main feature without seeming like a generic package add-on. Film festival/premiere and junket interview footage, combined with a trailer and mini TV slots, make for a decent assemblage of extras, but a documentary about Kurosawa, retrospective of his earlier work or any kind of commentary would have made the package perfect.
DIRECTOR: KIYOSHI KUROSAWA | SCREENPLAY: KIYOSHI KUROSAWA, SACHIKO TANAKA | STARRING: MASAMI NAGASAWA, RYUHEI MATSUDA, MAHIRO TAKASUGI, YURI TSUNEMATSU, HIROKI HASEGAWA | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW