Yocho (Foreboding) (予兆 散歩する侵略者, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2017)

Yocho posterBefore We Vanish, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s take on the alien invasion drama, was an oddly romantic affair which made a case for the ineffability of love as the only possible form of human salvation. Meanwhile, cheating on cinema with television, Kurosawa tells us a different story. Yocho (Foreboding) (予兆 散歩する侵略者, Yocho: Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha) was first conceived as a TV drama running as a companion piece to the big screen experience but its canvas is noticeably darker. At heart, we have the same story with a slight variation as a bold wife attempts to save her weak willed husband from alien manipulation, risking all to keep him safe him while the world burns around her. What we see this time is less the enduring power of love as a force for good, than yet another form of human weakness which encourages selfishness and creates a space into which nefarious forces may move.

In contrast to Masami Nagasawa’s conflicted, wounded wife of Before we Vanish, Etsuko (Kaho) is happily married to Tatsuo (Shota Sometani) who works at the local hospital. As she loves her husband so much, Etsuko is quick to realise there’s something not quite right in the way he’s been silently gazing off into space and walking around like a man possessed. Meanwhile, she’s accosted by a friend at work who asks to stay over because she’s too afraid to go home on account of “the ghost”. Eventually Etsuko goes investigating and discovers “the ghost” is really just her friend’s dad only her friend seems to have forgotten all about him and doesn’t quite understand what a “father” is anymore. Fearing the worst, Etsuko arranges to take her to the hospital, which is where she comes into contact with the strange and intimidating Dr. Makabe (Masahiro Higashide).

Dr. Makabe is one of the alien invaders seen in Before We Vanish who have come to Earth on a scouting mission ahead of its destruction. His mission is to steal “concepts” from people’s heads so the aliens can catalogue soon to be extinct humanity. Makabe has recruited Tatsuo to be his guide but this is a very different arrangement to that Shinji makes with his “wife” Narumi. Tatsuo is not so much an interpreter as an informant. His “job” is to select Makabe’s “victims” in return for preferential treatment when the apocalypse arrives. Increasingly conflicted in betraying his own species, Tatsuo is going slowly off the rails while the world disintegrates all around around him.

Etsuko, meanwhile, has a kind of superpower of her own in that she is apparently “immune” to alien interference. They can’t take concepts from her, they can’t manipulate her will, and they can’t break her bond with her beloved (if slightly useless) husband. The power of love still reigns supreme but this time it’s not entirely a good thing as Etsuko, who has the means to resist the evil invaders, focusses on rescuing her one true love rather than defending humanity. Love is her weakness, whereas Tatsuo’s seems to be a low lying resentment of his lack of authority. A showdown with Makabe sees him offer a grim prognosis, as long as humans lust for power there will be no escape.

Makabe, meanwhile, has experienced the opposite revelation to his Before we Vanish counterpart in learning about death and human fear of mortality. Suddenly knowing what it means to die, he understands something of human existence, realising that death is forever beside you. Love maybe be the cure for “eternal loneliness”, but Makabe’s enlightenment is born of fear and darkness rather than human warmth.

Yocho, in a sense, mirrors Before We Vanish but in a darker hue. Etsuko and Tatsuo maybe a “happier” couple than Shinji and Narumi, but Tatsuo has already crossed to the dark side, abandoning his humanity and committing heinous and unthinkable acts on behalf of his alien master out of fear and desire. Makabe, taking Tatsuo to task, points out his weakness in his need for painkilling drugs to overcome the punishment Makabe has handed down for his betrayal. Humans, he says, always choose the comforting lie over the painful truth, swallowing pain killers rather than killing the pain by dealing with its root cause. This is in a way what Etsuko has chosen to do in her quest to save Tatsuo rather than using her skills to resist the alien invasion, though Makabe remains oddly fascinated by her various unusual qualities. Foreboding fills the frame as Etsuko meditates on the various oddities of her world while the skies thunder behind her, sending curtains billowing ominously in the absence of wind. A wounded Makabe ironically remarks that he has “underestimated the power of love”, reminding us that the greatest of human strengths is also its weakness, promising destruction as much as salvation.

Screened at the 20th Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Attack the Block – Review

In Joe Cornish’s debut feature film, Attack the Block, aliens have suddenly begun to crash land on a South London estate, and following their first encounter with the inhabitants are definitely not coming in peace. It’s Bonfire Night, and nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is walking home later than expected. Finishing a phone call she encounters one of those things we all dread in such occasions, a gang of rowdy youths blocking the road. She crosses over, some of them follow her, she decides to keep going when the leader of the gang approaches and asks for the phone, she hesitates and he releases a flick knife. Now he wants her purse, and her ring, but the ring won’t come off so he tries to force it and knocks Sam to the ground. Just then something appears to fall onto an adjacent car and explode. What was it, a firework maybe? The thugs approach but whatever it is wounds their leader and takes off, so off for revenge they go and our whole sorry tale begins.

This film looks absolutely fantastic, and its direction is totally assured especially for a first time filmmaker. Technically speaking everything about it is impressive and Joe Cornish has definitely succeeded in transferring into a new medium with immense skill, marking himself out as someone to watch. However, there are times when the film does not quite come together, or perhaps just narrowly misses out on transcending good to great, notably the end which is very abrupt (but perhaps in keeping with the nature of the film). The cast of mostly unknowns who make up our group of anti-heroes all give very fine and convincing performances, especially Moses, the leader whose arc is most central to film, excellently played by John Boyega. The depiction of life on the estate feels very authentic, down to the inclusion of current street slang and the film avoids patronising either its characters or the audience with stereotypical or reactionary attributes. There are a few misfires, such as Luke Treadaway’s middle class stoner, loser, zoologist desperately trying to fit into this concrete jungle and ending up becoming a walking plot point and inconsistent comic relief. Similarly Nick Frost’s small role is sometimes more of a distraction than anything else. That said, this is definitely the most enjoyable and accomplished British film for quite some time. If it doesn’t quite live up to some of the hype it’s not through want of trying and it will be surprising if this doesn’t end up becoming another cult hit in years to come!