Sanpo suru shinryakusha [Before We Vanish] (2017)

What a lovely film!

I’ll admit it. I love it when I find a SF movie that is unique and unexpected, which finds some strange nook no one else has explored and settles down there for an hour or two. Which is what we have here, a very Japanese, sui generis alien invasion film. Only it is more about love and people and who we are than it ever is about an alien conquest.

The effects are minimal and sparsely used — at least, until the end. As one of the aliens tells us early on, we are not capable of seeing their true form. Instead, a team of three has come here to prepare for their invasion, and they’ve taken over the bodies of three people.

Their mission is to learn what they can about our world, but their race does not use words. Instead they are “reaping” important concepts from the people they’ve met.

However, once they’ve reaped a concept it no longer exists in the mind of their subject.

After a shockingly bloody start, the film settles down nicely as a bouncy, light-hearted film, with the occasional serious interruption. One of the three aliens, the girl Akira, seems to delight in the chaos she causes as she makes her gleeful way through the city. The second, the teenaged Amano, is laid back, cynical and figures that what he does doesn’t matter because everyone is going to die anyway. He quickly finds a disenchanted and cynical journalist, Sakura, to act as his guide, although Sakura seems to be getting far too involved in his story.

The third, Shinji, takes over the body of a married man whose relationship with his wife is badly strained because he cheated on her.

Curiously, even though he knows there can be no real resistance to the invasion and that everyone on Earth will die, he tried to help his subjects, taking the concepts that are making them miserable.

I was enjoying the quirky and easy going comedy early in the film when I suddenly noticed how much the mood was set by the bouncy, somehow comic, score. I find myself constantly impressed by this film — its clever story and script, the performances and the layers of detail. While we finally do get a massive explosion of effects at the end, the true heart of the film is always with the people in it — and particularly with Shinji and his wife.

It’s a wonderful change of pace, and one of the reasons I keep watching offbeat SF films from all over the world.

After all, you never know when you’ll find some unexpected treasure.

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