Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s passion for his craft makes watching “Before We Vanish” worth every bit of your time.
By Ankit Ojha on February 2, 2018

The world has been lucky enough to choose between the many different kinds of science-fiction: there’s the meditative kind that helps reflect on humanity’s past, present, and future, the jargon-heavy kind that borrows a lot from working and theoretical study, and sci-fi-lite—not exactly science fiction, but borrows broadly from the genre strictly to entertain. And then there’s “Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha” (Eng. title: “Before We Vanish”), which is everything rolled into one big cookie dough.

And if you’ve ever had cookie dough, you’ll have known where I’m going with this by now, so let’s just get to it—it’s pretty good. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Kairo;” Eng. title: “Pulse,” 2001) doesn’t just throw in your good ol’ tropes without any rhyme or reason; it’s pretty easy to see that the film’s acute self-awareness of cliche—”Go shoot up some lethal red beams off your eyes somewhere else, why don’t you?”, one of the characters huffs away in irritability—comes from a love for the craft and the genre.

This commitment alone is enough to forgive the often jarring tonal shifts, which—if you give it some time—you’ll come around appreciating a lot more than you’d have previously thought you would. Imagine the core plot device of Stephanie Meyer’s “The Host” turned upside-down, with maybe a relatively thin slice of Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” (2014), only a lot funnier—and if any two people could nail funny, it’s Yuri Tsunematsu (“Sakurada Risetto Kouhen;” Eng. title: “Sakurada Reset Part II,” 2017) and Mahiro Takasugi (“ReLIFE,” 2017).

Before We Vanish
“Ew gross, are they… h-humans?” // (L-R) Ryuhei Matsuda, Masami Nagasawa, and Hiroki Hasegawa in a still from Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Before We Vanish, a Shochikku Co., and Nikkatsu Corporation film.

The duo don the roles of sociopathic aliens with a weird fascination toward human behavior and take over the narrative in a way that David from “Prometheus” (2012) never could. The character arcs are written with a magnetic playfulness that feels singularly fantastic. Complementing their controlled madness is Ryuhei Matsuda’s (“Serbuan Maut 2: Berandal;” Eng. title: “The Raid 2,” 2014) accidentally-empathetic-alien spin on what’s a nod to Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) if anything.

The biggest win of the film, though, is how, despite its core conceit and the rules built around it, Kurosawa breaks the very norms of his universe to make way for the power of love, empathy, and sacrifice—and between the actions of the distant Narumi, brilliantly acted by Masami Nagasawa (“Umimachi Diary;” Eng. title: “Our Little Sister,” 2015) or self-centered Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa; “Shin Gojira;” Eng. title: “Shin Godzilla,” 2016), there’s a lot of subtle foreshadowing that leads to these themes. Of note is how naturally the film can quantify love in a few unspoken moments, comparable to the only other film in recent history to try it with this kind of emotional honesty—Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (2014). 

If you’re looking for something way too specific from “Before We Vanish,” there are more chances you’d be disappointed. But if you’re in for some fun challenge of perception, with clever subversions of all the tropes the film’s celebrating, Kurosawa’s pastiche/dramedy is right up your alley. You’ll love the aliens—even root real hard for them—more than you will the humans (predictably, but also, “welcome to urf”), and that’s more than anybody can say for a whole bunch of humans-are-worse-than-aliens narratives we’ve seen before.