Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Movie Review (Glasgow Film Festival): Baby Assassins: An Offbeat Action Movie With a Twist

Director: Yugo Sakamoto

Writer: Yugo Sakamoto

Starring: Yukina Fukushima, Saori Izawa

Synopsis: Chisato and Mahilo are two high school girls who are about to graduate.They also happen to both be highly skilled assassins.When the organization they work for orders them to share a room, the relationship between turns sour.


The first time we meet Mahiro Fukugawa (Saori Izawa) she is in the cramped, dimly lit backroom of a grocery store being interviewed for a sales assistant job by an overly officious manager. She’s a young girl, maybe 16 or 17, and clearly has no interest in the job being offered. She lacks the ability to be enthusiastic in the ways the manager is looking for, and she struggles to sell herself. She tells the manager her main job is live streaming, which elicits a stern, reproachful response. In other words, she is like a lot of average young girls her age. There is little that stands out about her.

Until she pulls a gun from her bag and shoots the manager directly in the head.

This is Yugo Sakamoto’s Baby Assassins, a movie that seems to delight in subverting expectations as it delivers a truly gonzo action comedy which is, at its heart, most concerned with the friendship of its two young leads. Refusing to take its premise even remotely seriously, and fueled by a rambling plotline that is anything but straightforward, Baby Assassins feels like a part of the culture in which it’s made. It won’t be for everyone, some of its more offbeat and irreverent moments may test the patience of the average cinema-goer, but Sakamoto’s vision is ultimately a unique one and is executed with the precision of a sniper – in that way it’s a raucous rollercoaster that’s as fun as the name suggests.

Mahiro and Chisato (Akari Takaishi) are roommates in the bustling city of Tokyo. Both having recently graduated, they are job hunting and learning how to do adult things like pay bills and cohabit without drama. They are also assassins who have been thrown together by the shadowy organization they work for so that they can blend in with society. This is why they need jobs: no one suspects a young girl who works in a café of being a highly skilled assassin capable of killing a shady drug trafficker without batting an eye. Unfortunately, said drug trafficker had ties to the Yakuza, and now our intrepid young assassins find themselves up against their greatest challenge yet.

Baby Assassins’ biggest strength is the chemistry between Mahiro and Chisato. They are polar opposites in terms of their personalities – Mahiro is a quiet, socially anxious introvert, while Chisato is bright, bubbly, and chatty with everyone – yet mesh together surprisingly well. The arc of Baby Assassins is really these two friends learning to understand each other better as they live together. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between the day jobs these girls have, which they are always terrible at for a variety of reasons, and the professional, clinical way they carry out their assassination duties. Sakamoto balances the strange dichotomy of being extremely talented in an (necessarily) invisible way with struggling to integrate into a society which only rewards certain kinds of talent, namely customer service and interpersonal skills. The irony is clear: our assassins are professionals at taking lives, and useless at enriching them in any way.

For a martial arts actioner such as this, cinematography is incredibly important, and Moritada Iju doesn’t disappoint: the camera flits quickly from moment to moment during fights, capturing the raw brutality of each action but also infusing it with the pop-punk style Sakamoto is going for. It’s clearly operating on a low budget, so adjust your expectations accordingly, however, the guerrilla filmmaking style works in its favor. Baby Assassins doesn’t shy away from its more gruesome moments, and indeed accentuates the deadliness of each weapon on offer. The dark violence is also pleasingly contrasted by the poppy visual style as well – lots of bright tones and colors awash the screen, creating a dissonance between the violence and how it’s presented. It works well as both a visual and thematic style and ensures Baby Assassins stands out in this way.

Both Saori Izawa and Akari Takaishi are great in their respective roles. Izawa plays a disaffected loner well and her Mahiro feels perfectly relatable as a young girl struggling to integrate into society. Takaishi has a different kind of role to play; Chisato is vibrant and energetic, constantly talking into the silence, but is also prone to sulking and fits of rage. Takaishi moves between these moments well and makes Chisato feel like a fully fleshed person with her own issues to deal with.

Outside of this there are other characters, but none of these are even given names. They are essentially cyphers who exist to propel the plot forward for Mahiro and Chisato. Ultimately, what matters is the chemistry Izawa and Takaishi bring to the screen, and how they elevate what could have been another paint-by-numbers action movie into something a little more unique.


Grade – B

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