Somewhere in a quaint neighborhood in Japan, a grisly murder takes place. Elsewhere, a graphic designer’s husband has a stroke and loses his memory and a disgruntled journalist befriends a boy in his pursuit of possibly the biggest scoop of his life. And it’s all connected.
Sanpo suru shinryakusha coasts through with palpable madness. Worth it.
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: Before We Vanish), which is everything rolled into one big cookie-dough.
[…] if any two people could nail funny, it’s Yuri Tsunematsu and Mahiro Takasugi.
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 doesn’t just throw in your good-ole-tropes without any rhyme or reason; it’s quite 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 conceit of Stephanie Meyer’s (admittedly mediocre) The Host taken up and turned around, with maybe a rather thin slice of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, only a lot funnier—and if any two people could nail funny, it’s Yuri Tsunematsu and Mahiro Takasugi.
Before the Confession
(L-R) Ryuhei Matsuda and Masami Nagasawa star in Sanpo suru shinryakusha (Eng.: Before We Vanish), a Django Film, Nikkatsu Intl., and Super Ltd. (USA) release.
The duo dons the roles of sociopathic aliens with a weird fascination toward human behavior, and take over the narrative in a way that David from Prometheus will never be able to—there’s a certain magnetic playfulness within their character arcs that hits the nail right on the head. Complementing their controlled-madness is Ryuhei Matsuda’s accidentally-empathetic-alien spin on what’s a nod to Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers if anything.
Kurosawa breaks the very norms of his universe to make way for the power of love, empathy, and sacrifice.
The biggest win of the film though is how, despite its plot-device 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 (the fantastic Masami Nagasawa) or self-centered Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) there’s a lot of subtle foreshadowing that leads to these themes. Of note here is how naturally the film can quantify love in a few unspoken moments, as compared to that other film with that painfully long monologue.
If you’re looking for something way too specific from Sanpo suru shinryakusha, there are more chances you’d be disappointed. But if you’re in for some fun challenge of perception, with clever subversions of the very tropes the film’s celebrating, then 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.
If you’re into quirky pastiches and heartwarming human drama, Sanpo suru shinryakusha’s got the best of both worlds. There are high chances the movie might not be for you, but Kurosawa’s passion for his craft makes watching this movie a risk worth taking.