BEFORE WE VANISH (2017)

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Directed by:
Written by: ,
Starring: , , ,

AKA The Strolling Invaders

Coming to Blu-ray from Arrow Video 11-Feb-2019

While a lot of alien invasion stories tend to focus on the conflict between the human race and an unknown species, it’s interesting to see a take on the subject that is really more about the people of Earth. In fact for once the government cover story about a virus that appears part way into the film is kind of plausible. There are no flashy visual effects depicting life from another planet, and in fact details on the invaders are pretty scant to say the least. Instead there are a lot of odd characters behaving strangely as a trio of seemingly average people wander the streets of Japan asking a lot of strange questions. What do they want, and how are they messing with the minds of so many passers by?

Despite a low key approach the story certainly starts with a bang to let you know the sort of tone it’s going for, as a school girl apparently butchers her family and goes for walk… across a highway. The quirky mixture of sudden violence and mayhem is accompanied by a great score from Yûsuke Hayashi reminiscent of something by John Williams. It’s a great opening with a amount of mystery and weirdness. The literal fish out of water scene is a fantastic start to the proceedings, even if the story doesn’t follow up with this kind of offbeat extreme cinema mood very often. Later the film jumps between bloodshed, character humour and sentimental romance… but like the disparate personalities of the extra terrestrials things never quite come together as you might expect.

After arriving on Earth off screen, three strangers begin to act in bizarre ways as they become hosts for an alien intelligence. The one posing as young girl Akira (Yuri Tsunematsu) is prone to violence and lashes out with hand to hand blows and gunfire at the slightest provocation, while her comrade inside the body of teenage boy Amano (Mahiro Takasugi) is more calculating. Meanwhile the third member of their group is living as cheating husband Shinji (Ryûhei Matsuda) and finds that adjusting to society isn’t so easy. They’ve been tasked with recording the language and culture of the human species although they seem rather ill equipped to do so. Stranger still they go about their work by taking information (permanently) from other humans as they apparently can’t access this from the memories of their hosts.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this is the central concept of the film – they hear about unknown concepts like freedom, work and personal possessions – and then proceed to extract the details from the minds of victims. While the third act depicts a state of panic as a hospital fills with people unable to function properly, in some cases it seem to benefit them. It’s an interesting prospect to suggest that without knowledge of social constraints people might be better off… but at the same time many are left with a kind of dementia. Shinji’s long suffering wife Narumi (Masami Nagasawa) soon finds that her sister doesn’t want to know about the idea of family and her boss only wants to play like a child. Again it’s all pretty interesting, but whether it’s really enough to fill out a movie of this length is debatable.

The main narrative concerns Narumi and her failed marriage with Shinji after he winds up in hospital without any idea who she is. In fact he has no idea what a wife is, amongst many other things. However Narumi has no sympathy for him as she suspects that his last business trip was actually covering up an affair, and she seems more irritated than anything else. There’s a blend of melancholy and humour as the pair try to get along, with Shinji being unable to even walk at times and occasionally stopping to try and talk with dogs. But there’s also a sense that his failings as a husband have been erased, and that whatever force is now in control of his body might actually make things better. However the wider reaching effects of his mind swap are still inherently creepy as things go on.

Elsewhere magazine reporter Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) becomes entangled in the plans of Amano and Akira who want him to be their ‘guide’ during their information gathering plan. Considering that they’re open about all of this he doesn’t seem particularly disturbed, even when it becomes clear they’re preparing for the invasion and want him to buy radio equipment to help the process. Like the domestic drama there’s a sense that this is all a parallel for people finding themselves and becoming better human beings… but the message is often muddled and there’s a lack of focus. It would make more sense for this to be a much shorter film with only Shinji and Narumi at the centre, but they felt the need to add multiple subplots about government agents and military action.

Perhaps if the overall movie was as quirky as the music is at times it would feel smoother, but the visuals are often drab and grey and the pacing is pretty lethargic for the most part. There are moments that are harrowing and others that are mushy and soft hearted… but there’s not enough connecting tissue between these different elements even when they work on their own terms. Finding the value of human love at the end of the world is a fairly solid theme but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. A group of people losing their inhibitions by sharing information with each other is honestly a great idea even with such dark connotations, and science fiction is probably the best genre to tell that story.

In many instances that kind of creativity begins to shine through, but it gets stretched a little thing along the way. It feels its length and needs a larger dose of much darker horror or much bigger laughs. A bit of both would have been pretty effective at making the other more humane elements feel stronger. Perhaps more of Akira going off the rails and less dry dialogue about phoney health hazards. Still, for those looking for a mixture of romantic drama and twisted comedy it’s worth a look, just be prepared for a journey that is often rough around the edges.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

Mocata
About Mocata 103 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, world cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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