Some good ideas are wasted in a perfectly serviceable but otherwise dull sci fi mystery.
“I am a normal human.”
It’s difficult to come up with a fresh take on the alien invasion genre. After so many years it’s started to feel a bit rote and boring. There have been some attempts to shake it up, but they’ve mostly been pretty awful, from the painfully unsubtle metaphors in District 9 to the strange humour of Mars Attacks!. At the end of the day, a bunch of aliens in ships coming to Earth to invade is just played out. So if a filmmaker comes in with something fresh, then I’m all for it. Enter the weird, mind-stealing world of Yocho.
Etsuko (Kaho) works at a textile factory, and is one day approached by a colleague who believes her house is haunted. Etsuko allows her to stay, only to find the girl is also spooked by Etsuko’s own husband Tatsuo (Shota Sometani). Deciding to investigate the matter, Etsuko finds that the person the girl believes to be a ghost is actually her father, who she seems terrified of. Taking her to a psychiatrist, Etsuko learns that this woman has apparently lost her concept (or “conception” according to the subtitles) of ‘family’.
Concerned how something so vital and abstract could disappear from a human mind, Etsuko finds out that there have been other cases around the world of humans losing basic concepts. It is then that she meets Doctor Makabe, a colleague of her husband’s, from whom she gets a very bad feeling from. Something about Makabe and his friendship with Tatsuo (who seems almost subservient) is off, but she doesn’t know what it could be. However – in a weird very early reveal – we learn that Makabe is actually an alien who is stealing concepts from people’s minds, in preparation for an invasion.
Yocho, the subtitle of the movie being Invaders Walking, is … strange, to say the least. It’s extraordinarily long, and considering nothing really happens, frustratingly so. The film goes from tense, to exciting, to extremely dumb to just plain boring. It truly has no business being two and a half hours long, and could very easily have been 100 minutes or so, without losing anything that mattered. The first twenty or so minutes promise an interesting mystery, something like what The Happening could have been in a better world. But once we’re introduced to the alien and what can only be loosely defined as his plan, then everything just sort of goes off the rails, but not in a so-crazy-it’s-good way.
There’s something distinctly off about the entire thing, both for better and worse. On the one hand, this cranks up the creepy factor considerably for the first act, but conversely it results in a film that feels like it’s doing too much and not remotely enough at the same time. Maybe, then, it’s worth noting that Yocho did not start out as a film, but as a 5-part TV special that was edited down. Taking this into account suddenly explains a lot of the film’s faults, and makes you wish that instead of cobbling something together from premade footage, that they’d instead remake the entire thing.
So Yocho is – in this current incarnation – a bore that it isn’t very well edited together, sure. But is it a complete waste? Well, the picture is hugely bolstered by some very strong direction, and director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s skill behind the camera is worthy of serious praise. He builds dread wonderfully, framing each scene to show only what he needs to. Add into it a subtle but affecting score as well as a strange, almost off-putting level of grain to it and the result is something that feels technically very good. Once again, I can only imagine that the source it was ripped from is a lot better than its cinematic version.
It features some decent, if not particularly memorable acting, and generally it’ll probably stay with me, especially during the pretty grim mind-stealing scenes – so again, it’s not a total bust. You do get the impression that cinema isn’t the right format for this story, and in fact feels very much like a book – the first in a possible trilogy or series. I’m reminded of The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, which featured a similar-paced plot, but had 2 more books to back it up. Yochi is hard to recommend as it is, but considering its interesting premise and the talent behind the camera, it might be worth it for the half act alone.
Verdict: Yocho isn’t a total failure by any means, it just sort of sucks.
Overall entertainment: 5/10
Act one: 8/10
Act two: 3/10
Act three: 4/10
Aliens: One? Two? Thousands? The scope isn’t really made clear
Makabe: What is he, like eight feet tall?
Secrets to Your Success: A firm handshake.
The poster: Looks like something out of an anime
Also known as: Foreboding, 予兆 散歩する侵略者 (Yochō: Sanpo suru shinryakusha, “Foreboding: the invaders walk”)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writers: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Kaho – Etsuko Yamagiwa
Shota Sometani – Tatsuo Yamagiwa
Masahiro Higashide – Shiro Makabe