Review: Yocho, aka Foreboding (Japan Cuts 2018)

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

The latest from Kiyoshi Kurosawa serves as a companion piece to his previous film, Before We Vanish. As one of the curators at Japan Society noted at the screening, they share the same “cinematic universe”, though Yocho feels less me too-is when considering the original format; it was initially a television miniseries that made its debut a month after the precursor hit the big screen. The theatrical version is essentially the original five episodes in a heavily edited compilation; I’m dying to know how long each one was, and therefore how much (as well as what exactly) was left on the cutting room floor. Because…

Yocho is essentially Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s take on Invaders of the Body Snatchers (well, technically his second). Which means it’s also about aliens planning a takeover of earth, who have embedded themselves in society, to covertly gather intel. But instead of stealing people wholesale, as in their identities, they rob people of abstract concepts, or “conceptions”. Early on a victim has the concept of “family” taken, hence why she freaks out when encountering her father, since she no longer understands the word, along with the meaning behind it. This same individual eventually becomes comatose, since the very concept of family is the basis of human society. The film primarily revolves around two humans; first is Etsuko, friend of the aforementioned victim, who after taking her to the hospital, ends up having a chance encounter with an alien pretending to be a doctor. Second is Etsuko’s husband Tatsuo, the assistant to one Dr. Makabe… aka the aforementioned alien in disguise? It works like this: when an alien lands on earth, they appoint an escort to show them the lay of the land. Tatsuo is one such lucky human, who picks and chooses Makabe’s victims, as well as help him produce the concepts that are desired at the moment.

Initially, Tatsuo targets individuals that he has issues with, but as things keep going, the weight of the situation becomes unbearable. But it’s not like he can just walk away from his role… or can he? Also, there are other aliens besides Makabe, right? Overall, Yocho is a fine accompaniment to Before We Vanish, yet one can’t help shake the feeling that perhaps it’s best absorbed via the original format. Because there’s definitely the sense that something is missing; with so much material to pull from, it’s understandable that the priority would be parts that ultimately drive the narrative forward. Yet any fan of Kiyoshi Kurosawa can tell you that the appeal of his work comes from the silence between the beats (hence why the idea of a conceivably five-hour long flick by the man to be most intriguing). Yet despite all that, Yocho nevertheless a thoroughly engaging and entertaining flick, one that further cements Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s status as a master class director, perhaps the absolute best in the realm of modern Japanese cinema. It’s just not his finest; see them both, and in any order really. Alas, I wasn’t able to see a screener beforehand, so the film’s lone screening has come and gone, though it will hopefully show up in one of the two dozen Roku channels that has become the home for Asian cinema!

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