Kiyoshi Kurosawa is no stranger to humanity’s end.
Apocalypses closed his Charisma and Pulse, and now his Before We Vanish promises the same right from its title – even if the original Japanese title, Sanpo suru shinryakusha, literally means ‘strolling invaders’. Indeed, it tells its story of alien invasion at a stately pace, following the arrival of three extra-terrestrials who have taken possession of human hosts: schoolgirl Akira (Yuri Tsunematsu), young man Amano (Mahiro Takasugi), and cheating husband Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda).
The aliens are collecting human conceptions (‘family’, ‘ownership’, ‘self’, ‘other’, and eventually ‘love’) from people’s minds, leaving those whom they have robbed of these ideas feeling either cleansed or incapacitated. The aliens do not, however, take conceptions from their adopted ‘guides’ – the resourceful freelance journalist Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) in Amano’s case, and for Shinji his estranged wife Narumi (Masami Nagasawa).
Though he is an old hand at the genres of thriller (Cure; Creepy) and horror (Seance; Loft; Retribution), this is Kurosawa’s first foray into sci-fi, which he grounds with his usual blank-faced mundanity, but also sprinkles with a good humour that is less typical for him. The principal focus here, as in his Tokyo Sonata, Journey To The Shore and Daguerrotype, is a marriage under pressure – but there is also a new preoccupation with rapprochement and reconciliation.
So it is that Narumi sees in this alien who has replaced her husband the possibility of rekindling their relationship, even as Shinji finds himself more and more conflicted by his conjoined alien and human aspects. Contrariwise, Sakurai struggles to decide whether he is on the side of his own species, or of the invaders who would see earthlings wiped out. “Humanity ain’t no joke,” he tells Amano – but Kurosawa’s slow, uneven SF, focused more on drama than on its occasional jarring violence, certainly delimits humanity’s lighter, more romantic side.