Theatrical Releases - Before We Vanish (2018) - Reviewed

Beloved auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa returns to the cinema, this time embarking on a science fiction odyssey through the heart of humanity.  Known for his prolific horror films and constantly evolving style, Kurosawa's latest focuses on the essence of the soul and the power of love.  While this is an unexpected departure from his portfolio, Before We Vanish is an outstanding humanistic triumph, featuring a powerful ensemble, a low-fi 80's ambiance, and stunning visual compositions. 

Three alien travelers come to Earth, ahead of an invasion to research humans.  They possess three different bodies and as they insidiously learn about humanity through the extraction of mental concepts from their victims, they also begin to respect that which they seek to conquer.  Kurosawa co-wrote the script with Tomohiro Makawa, who penned the play the film is based on.  This is a slow burn meditation, grasping at larger than life philosophical quandaries and complex moral dilemmas.  With a running time of over two hours, the glacial pace may rebuke some, however it is essential in laying the groundwork for the poignant finale.  

Hiroki Hasegawa shines as a cynical reporter who is swept up in the invasion.  His transformation from vengeful collaborator to reluctant father is splendid to behold.  His scenes with Mahiro Takasugi are both heartbreaking and hilarious, as the human and invader slowly feel each other out.  The central concept of forever removing aspects of the personality is initially terrifying, however, there is a sly division in the aftermath that is the centerpiece of the story.  Some victims seem liberated from their former lives, embracing freedom and acting as better members of society, while others are irrevocably changed and borderline catatonic.  There is a love story that dances around both of these concepts, with Ryuhei Matsuda's quizzical alien landing in the middle of a marriage on the rocks.  While the plot takes expected turns towards the finale, the ramifications of change, both within the psyche and within our relationships are potent.  

Akiko Ashizawa's cinematography is elusive, changing from horrific compositions in an unforgettable introductory scene to warm, light filled scenes of loss and wonder.  Yusuke Hayashi's score brims with unexpected comical notes, playing on the paranoia subtext of a world undone by apathy.  As Hasegawa's reporter begs for validation, the soulless masses peer up at him like zombies, all while zany tones vibrate in the background.  This the part of the film's undeniable charm. 

In theaters now and coming soon to digital on demand, Before We Vanish is the first exceptional film of 2018 and yet another astounding achievement by one of the most talented directors working today.  If you're interested in a fresh take on the alien invader genre, this will not disappoint.  

--Kyle Jonathan