Completing his apocalyptic sci-fi diptych that began with Before We Vanish in Cannes’ Certain Regard last year, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s new film, Foreboding (Yocho), tells a closely related story. Once more, aliens come to Earth to research human beings by stealing their mental concepts before launching a full-scale Independence Day-style invasion. This Berlin Panorama Special entry seems like an unnecessary variation on the first film, sharing most of its pros and cons, including some eerie moments, slow storytelling and excess length, but lacking its more spectacular action sequences. The closing line of dialogue, “The invasion is beginning,” brings to mind Ennio Flaiano’s comment about the Martians walking down Via Veneto, “What, them again!”
Both films are based on original plays by Maekawa Tomohiro, whose Ikiume company first performed them in 2005. The current film is taken from the play Yocho Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha and is a cut-down version of Wowow’s 2017 five-episode TV drama, though at 140 minutes of running time, the film is only an hour shorter than the mini-series. Although it was never intended for anything but limited theatrical release and festivals, it does give non-Japanese audiences an eyeful of what passes for cult sci-fi these days.
The opener is low-key to a fault. Etsuko (played as a “normal human” by Kaho of Our Little Sister) becomes worried when she notices her young husband, Tetsuo (Sometani Shota, Himizu), is staring moodily out the window of their apartment. Only later will she learn he has become a “guide” or victim-picker for youthful Dr. Makabe (Higashide Masahiro from The Kirishima Thing), who is really an alien in the guise of a surgeon. Whenever Tetsuo, a clinical engineer at the hospital, contemplates rebelling against his master, he is wracked by unbearable pains in his hand and arm. It’s an effective means of controlling a slave.
The good doctor is collecting human “concepts” and emotions such as love, hate, family, fear of death. He takes what he wants by touching a victim’s forehead with a bony, ET-like finger, and the person generally spins out of control, a jabbering mess. This happens to a girl who works in Etsuko’s factory, who loses her concept of her father and screams whenever she sees him.
It turns out that Etsuko is someone “special”: Only she can sense aliens inside their human hosts, and she is inexplicably immune to their thieving fingers.
The story drags on through a flabby middle, when more innocents are trashed by the Tetsuo-Dr. M combo, and Etsuko and her girlfriend Yoko (Eriko Nakamura) show courage as they slowly put two and two together. Like the wife in Before We Vanish, Etsuko chooses to use her special powers to save her marriage rather than humanity as a whole, which may not be the brightest idea, given how things turn out.
Torn between their apocalyptic knowledge that the world could end at any moment – the most convincing evidence is the scary ‘50s monster music that has accompanied many an alien invasion past – and their need to get through this thing together, Etsuko and Tetsuo try to reason with Dr. Makabe, to no avail. When he and his cohorts begin slaughtering citizens wholesale, however, the police step in. Etsuko’s talents are recognized and she is called in to negotiate planetary co-existence between the aliens and Earthlings, but rather disappointingly, all she asks him to do is stop Tetsuo’s arm ache. A final showdown among the three main characters puts the overextended story out of its misery.
One can understand young Japanese audiences relating to Kurosawa’s casual mixing of retro, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi with a bit of coy sociology about how the traditional concepts of family and love are in the process of disappearing in contemporary society. For other audiences, these films are likely to remain well-lensed curiosity items.
Production company: Wowow Films
Cast: Kaho, Sometani Shota, Higashide Masahiro, Eriko Nakamura, Yukino Kishii, Junpei Yasui, Kei Ishibashi
Director: Kurosawa Kiyoshi
Screenwriters: Takahashi Hiroshi, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, based on the play by Maekawa Tomohiro
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special)