Invaders go snatching in Before We Vanish

Japanese sci-fi flick Before We Vanish turns a cerebral premise into a lively blast of satirical action comedy

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      Starring Mahiro Takasugi. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      Three off-world visitors possess the bodies of people and begin the groundwork for planetary invasion. So goes the premise for Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s lively sci-fi flick, adapted from a stage play by Tomohiro Maekawa, and emerging, in some ways, as a distant and much less portentous cousin to 2016’s Arrival.

      Language was the space-time reality-bridging puzzle for that film’s heptapods. Here, the invader is bent on snatching human “conceptions” in its hunger to internalize our world, which means tapping the foreheads of mesmerized victims while remarking “I’ll take that,” a telepathic transfer of comprehension that leaves the mark instantly bereft of whatever it is they were just thinking about.

      If that cerebral business sounds a bit like Michel Foucault’s War of the Worlds, Kurosawa’s film is staged largely as action-comedy. Of the two younger aliens, Amano (Mahiro Takasugi) comes off as an insolent teen inhabiting one of the farther outposts of the generation gap, while Akira (Yuri Tsunematsu)—first seen carving up her human host’s mom—is more your super deadly Japanese schoolgirl type. She gets a couple of awesomely staged fight sequences as security forces close in on the pair.

      Meanwhile, Narumi (Masami Nagasawa) comes home one day to a husband, Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda), suddenly infantilized by his newly arrived nonterrestrial resident. She becomes his reluctant “guide”, while Amano and Akira conscript the initially skeptical journalist Sakurai (Hiroki Hasegawa) to help them find their compatriot and get on with the invasion.

      With such loaded “conceptions” on the menu as “family”, “freedom”, “possessions”, and, most chillingly, “love”, you can probably guess where the film is going with all of this and who poses the real threat to humanity, not to mention how much irony drips from Yusuke Hayashi’s Cold War/sci-fi–era score. An epilogue makes it all too pat, but getting there is sure fun, between one character’s epic showdown with a drone and some of the more casual zingers spread out across the film’s two-something hours. When he finds Sakurai prioritizing his journalistic scoop over any interest in saving his own species, a sardonic Amano gets the best throwaway line in the film. “Humans are awesome,” he marvels. And not in a reassuring way.