Opening with a scream followed by deafening silence as the camera pans across a gore spattered room, dismemberment and a goldfish flopping in a pool of blood, Before We Vanish wastes no time captivating one’s attention. Appearing to be void of emotion, a young girl named Akira Tachibana (Yuri Tsunematsu) surveys the scene, bringing her blood soaked hands to her mouth to taste the gore. Excitement and curiosity immediately follow as Akira wanders down the middle of a highway causing a traffic accident as she unflinchingly continues her aimless walk, all while wearing a devious smirk.
What unfolds is the story of three aliens who have come to Earth, taking human hosts to study humanity by obtaining “concepts.” This valued information and the emotion behind it is removed from the individual’s mind and absorbed by the extraterrestrial beings for the use of understanding and executing an invasion. This story concept should sound familiar to any fan of sci-fi horror. Made popular by Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956, this concept has had several adaptations over the years, including the 1978 remake and the 2007 feature The Invasion starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. However, Before We Vanish uses an old premise as a springboard. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Tokyo Sonata) applies a unique twist, adding a new layer of depth and substance to an old tale.
A journalist desperate for his next big story, Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) attempts to get an exclusive report of the crime scene Akira left behind. However, when he encounters the second alien appearing as a young boy named Amano (Mahiro Takasugi), he agrees to serve as the young boy’s guide in search of Akira, in exchange for a story that could launch his career to a whole new level. Meanwhile, the third alien, taking on the form of husband and businessman Shinji Kase (Ryuhei Matsuda), struggles to adapt to his new surroundings. Believing that her husband is merely sick, Narumi Kase (Masami Nagasawa) struggles to balance caring for Shinji while completing an important project for her work.
While Akira is twisted and sadistic and Amano is a crafty, nonchalant schemer, the two aliens seem to both target malevolent concepts of humanity. Perhaps driven by their own lack of compassion, Akira and Amano obtain traits such as selfishness, greed and power. Shining light on the worst of human traits, the duo consistently shows that the human race deserves to be wiped out of existence. As Amano tells Sakurai, the human race would kill itself off within 100 years anyway.
In direct contrast to his counterparts, Shinji seems to be more genuinely curious about the human race. Taking the concepts of family, possessions and work, Shinji gains a much broader understanding of humanity. Although taking the concept of family away from his sister-in-law has a devastating effect, the alien’s absorption of possessions and work sets a couple of individuals free from certain chains of society.
Backed by applaudable performances, some thrilling martial arts, action scenes and occasional humor, Before We Vanish is an exploration of humanity. It is an unexpected story of humanities shortcomings. While the conclusion seems a bit loosely connected, it maintains a somber feeling of hope, love and redemption while punching you square in the feelings for those who have them.