East Asian cinema is one of the sole reasons I think film in general deserves in-depth literary analysis. Every other year I go on an Akira Kurosawa binge. With the resounding success Bong Joon-ho paved with “Parasite” at the Academy Awards this year, my adoration for not only his direction, but South Korean film in general, has further cemented my love for reading subtitles. (I don’t care if this makes me a total nerd, but if I have the option to watch anime with subtitles rather than an English dub, then I’m going to read my show all the way.)
After scouring Hulu for about half an hour one morning recently, I found Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Before We Vanish.” (Kiyoshi is not related to Akira Kurosawa, one of Japan’s most seminal directors.) Although the premise of the film alone was what caught me, its bizarrely unique execution reeled me in further.
“Before We Vanish” is, for lack of any better combination of terms, a humorous science-fiction thriller with slight elements of rom-com. Its story follows a group of three aliens who take over human bodies as hosts, in which they wander a Japanese city, collecting “concepts” from humans. This action involves the alien asking questions to another person so they can create an image of an abstract concept in their head—and then the alien steals it from them, and the person no longer knows what that word means. For instance, one of the aliens steals a woman’s concept of “freedom,” and she becomes a shell of a person.
“Before We Vanish” moves along two major plots, one where a journalist becomes a “guide” for two aliens who inhabit the bodies of human teenagers, in hopes that they can construct a communication device to contact their mothership to invade Earth. The other plotline involves a woman who recently learns her husband has been admitted to a hospital immediately after her learning that he cheated on her with another woman. However, since the reason for his admission is due to him becoming an alien scout, he constantly explains that he doesn’t know the person he currently is. Together, they try to reassemble their marriage, and when he refuses to comply with the intentions of the other two aliens, things really become wild. The alien invasion is ultimately called off after the husband takes his wife’s offer to absorb her concept of “love.”
I love weirdly original movies like “Before We Vanish.” It incorporates the best thematic elements of Japanese drama, while also inviting a powerful premise with its classically literary science fiction story. The humor scattered throughout the film felt refreshing, in spite of my expectation that a humorous tone would detract from the overall tone. That said, the soundtrack for “Before We Vanish” was all over the place; when scenes were meant to be jovial and light-hearted, some of the songs were rather goofy (I thought I was watching “Looney Tunes” or “Kung Fu Hustle”). Despite some of the music throwing off the tone, I appreciated how the film succeeded to infuse practically three different genres, of sci-fi, rom-com, and thriller.