It has been a while since I last did a review round-up of any festival but fellow cinephile and Twitter-user FelixAguirre regularly collects links to reviews and alerts them to me and with such a treasure-trove of opinions from the most recent Cannes Film Festival on offer, I’d be mad to turn them down. Following on from Blade of the Immortal and Radiance is…
Before We Vanish
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is my favourite filmmaker. I’ll resist copying and pasting my reviews (since I copied and pasted my preview of this film) and just say that both his horror titles and his dramas like Tokyo Sonata and License to Live are my absolute favourite films of all time. He has transcended his horror roots and a controversial start to his career to become a major figure in the Japanese film industry and now teaches at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and tours the international festival circuit with his works. He has been a regular guest at the most high-profile European film festivals in recent years and his latest, a spin on The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has captured critic’s interest:
散歩する侵略者 「Sanpo suru Shinryakusha」
Running Time: 129 mins.
Release Date: September 09th , 2017
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay), Tomohiro Maekawa (Original Stageplay),
Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Masami Nagasawa, Mahiro Takasugi, Yuri Tsunematsu, Hiroki Hasegawa,
In between teaching the next generation of filmmakers at Tokyo University of Fine Arts, Kiyoshi Kurosawa has regularly been making films himself and his latest is based on a stageplay by Tomohiro Maekawa which was first performed in 2005. Its story has the feel of something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and while the first poster revealed looked innocuous enough the second one (which isn’t all that good) showcased an explosion so expect violence. It stars Ryuhei Matsuda (Nightmare Detective, The Great Passage, My Little Sweet Pea), Masami Nagasawa (Our Little Sister) and Hiroki Hasegawa (priceless as the mad director in Why Don’t You Play in Hell?). It has been selected to be screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival and it looks decent from the teaser.
Synopsis: Narumi (Masami Nagasawa) and her husband Shinji Kase (Ryuhei Matsuda) are having problems of the marital sort. Things may be bad but are they bad enough to justify Shinji disappearing for seven days? Masami is left wondering, especially because after his disappearance and return he seems like a totally different person, a kinder and gentler man who likes to go for a walk every day. This just happens to coincide with strange events in town and the brutal murder of a family. Masami begins to piece things together but Shinji surprises her again by telling her that he came to Earth to invade.
Some film critics lament the passage of time and the mellowing of the once-great horror director who has moved on from intense and original psychological and supernatural films to overlong sci-fi tales and adaptations of novels:
“Once upon a time, Kiyoshi Kurosawa made films like Cure and Pulse, which – depending on who you ask – were some of the best horror films of their time. But man, when a director lets himself go… Before We Vanish is an ambitious sci-fi drama with some good ideas, and someone who doesn’t really know how to handle them. It’s a mess, both tonally and structurally, with a few lingering remnants of promise that never blossom to fruition.” Sam Gray – The Upcoming
The film has garnered mixed reviews from critics, most of whom state that genre fans more familiar with Kurosawa’s horror works and those expecting a sci-fi action spectacle (as promised by that explosion in that lacklustre poster) will face disappointment because the film lives up to its Japanese title as the paces relaxes into a stroll thanks to Kurosawa’s restrained direction and audiences are taken for a wander through an alien invasion and multiple genres whilst characters philosophise about life and love.
“Perpetually shifting gear between playful sci-fi pastiche, quirky rom-com and apocalyptic thriller, Before We Vanish might have worked better as a single dedicated genre, but it becomes a little scrambled trying to cover several at once. Kurosawa’s lackadaisical direction does not help, deflating any suspense and stretching audience patience with his snoozy pacing and baggy running time.” Stephen Dalton – The Hollywood Reporter
The running time becomes an issue when there is no dramatic propulsion vanishes after its exciting and scary opening it seems like there is little of interest happening…
“The sparks of dark humour within this awkwardly paced and overlong drama are not enough to sustain audience interest until the film’s laboured conclusion.” Wendy Ide – Screen Daily
But stick with it. Despite the harsh criticism of some, others say the film is redeemed by its conclusion:
“Playing frequently like an absurdist political satire with only flashes of violence, this low-tension, drawn-out work won’t gratify the chills or adrenaline rushes fanboys crave, but the ending strikes a romantic chord so pure that all but the most jaded cynics will be moved.” Maggie Lee – Variety
As far as I can tell, this film, along with all of Kurosawa’s most recent output reveal a director who has firmly become a grand old man of the Japanese film industry and one might argue that, like the industry, his fire is vanishing with each film he releases amidst money-spinning adaptations. You can’t stay angry when you are no longer an outsider like he was around the time of Charisma and he has matured but he feels like another example of the many Japanese filmmakers who aren’t tackling different and difficult subjects whether it is politics, corruption, misogyny and whatever else needs to be addressed in society and that is disappointing. Still, maybe you’d trade in controversy for acclaim if you get invited to Cannes and lauded in Japan…
Meanwhile, in Korea where filmmakers DO discuss and dissect difficult subjects in films and still get invited to festivals their films are still generating interest – I will have to review some soon…