Patrick praises the quirky, albeit violent, comedy action flick from young Japanese director Yûgo Sakamoto.
Yûgo Sakamoto’s Baby Assassins is a masterpiece of modern Japanese cinema, telling the story of two teenage girls who balance their everyday lives with a secret career as hitmen. Although it was shown as part of the Glasgow Film Festival’s horror section, those expecting to be terrified may be disappointed to find an action-packed comedy which can at times be surprisingly sweet and tender.
The film opens in Uguisudani, a colourful neighbourhood on the skirts of Tokyo, and one of the capitals of organised crime in Japan. There, we find the apartment of our two protagonists. Mahiro is a stylish but shy adolescent, stumbling her way through life and rarely raising her voice above a whisper. Her roommate and accomplice Chisato dresses in black, resembling a Goya painting, but is unafraid to shuck this cold exterior and reveal her friendly, caring heart. Together, they commit unspeakable atrocities, massacring strangers with almost total disinterest.
Their employers contact them through a user-friendly online agency: assassination for the era of Uber and WeWork. They see their job as no different to the casual labour typically undertaken by teenagers, but with the advantage of better benefits and wages. “We’re assassins, you know,” Chisato says, “We kill people so we don’t have to get these annoying jobs”.
Criticism of modern capitalism and the gig economy is present throughout the film, expressed with humour and intelligence. Essentially, Baby Assassins poses this question: in a world full of unethical businesses gleaning success from the labour of the young, why should hired murder be any different? As they travel through Tokyo on their nefarious missions, the duo encounter countless characters who have become little more than machines, alienated in their service to the economic order. In the opening scene, Mahiro must battle the entire staff of a corner store to reach their manager. They devote themselves to the task, fighting to the death for an employer they see almost as a god. But when the manager is faced with this charnel house, countless myrmidons who have died for him, he simply asks, with slight annoyance, “What the Hell am I supposed to do with our work shifts from tomorrow?”
“Criticism of modern capitalism and the gig economy is present throughout the film, expressed with humour and intelligence.”
Mahiro and Chisato’s story is accompanied by that of a Yakuza family operating nearby, whose vicious exploits make the teenagers’ seem tame. Killers hardened by years of experience, they look down on the young amateurs whenever they interact. When one of them encounters Chisato’s work, he remarks, somewhat bewildered, “She sucks. How could she be a hitman? I’m concerned about the hitman industry.” Yet they learn not to underestimate their rivals when their paths collide in the film’s thrilling conclusion.
Despite its absurdity, the film provides a brilliant and realistic portrayal of teenage friendship. The two main characters have fantastic chemistry, and every moment of their interaction oozes with the joy of real camaraderie. From their relaxation on their apartment’s couch, each content with the silent presence of the other, to their joyful strolls through the metropolis, they provide a glimpse into the happiest memories of youth.Baby Assassins isn’t for everyone, and the relentless violence would understandably turn many away. But those who watch it will be pleasantly surprised by the gentle humour and true cinematic genius.