Growing up is hard. As a kid, most days are spent having carefree fun. Eventually, the pressures of high school graduation, getting a job, living on your own, and juggling multiple responsibilities takes precedence over everything else. This transition is difficult for anyone. This is especially true for assassins. Imagine having to come to grips with the realities of adulthood while holding down a job as a sociopathic killer? Oh sure, carrying out missions and taking out targets can be fun, but don’t forget to do your laundry and pay your bills when you’re through! No one wants to hire a mercenary that can’t fold their own clothes or pay for their own place!
That is the central construct of writer/director Yugo Sakamoto’s action comedy, Baby Assassins (2021). Coming out of Japan, the film takes a playful look at two characters going through a coming-of-age tale, while also avoiding getting snubbed out by vicious adversaries. This is not the kind of flick that features your traditional good guys and bad guys. Everyone is amoral, just to varying degrees. These characters willingly shoot others at point blank range for simply being annoying. That is the selling point. Sakamoto’s narrative juxtaposes everyday behavior with extreme violence, creating a humorously dark tone. Morality is not something that exists here. In fact, murder is such a daily occurrence that it has become as mundane as taking out the trash.
The world building creatively blends the two opposing sides. We meet Mahiro (Saori Izawa) and Chisato (Akari Takaishi), two young women who just happen to work as assassins. Fresh out of high school, the two are ordered by their management to integrate themselves into the rest of society, so that their exploits can be better kept under wraps. This means Mahiro and Chisato must get regular jobs and share an apartment together. Problems arise almost immediately, as the two can’t seem to maintain their ruse. In the opening scene, we see Mahiro blowing an interview at a grocery store. Seemingly out of boredom, Mahiro decides to kill the interview, as well the interviewer and every employee in the place.
The fun of Baby Assassins is in seeing Mahiro and Chisato – two completely different personality types – struggling to be law abiding citizens and efficient killing machines. In one scene, Chisato gathers her belongings before rushing out the front door. The way she talks about misplacing her gun as though they were her car keys hammers down the comedic element. Izawa and Takaishi create distinctive characteristics for their assigned roles. Where Takaishi plays Chisato with a bubbly quality, Izawa’s Mahiro is quieter and with a harder edge. This contrast works well in how they try to adjust to their new situation. Chisato is optimistic about the challenge where Mahiro is more reluctant. This is best exemplified when the two are hired as waitresses at a themed restaurant. Chisato plays along right away, getting into the part with enthusiasm and energy. However, Mahiro scoffs at the job, unable to pull out of her morose state of being.
For something that is billed as an action comedy, there is more of an emphasis on the “comedy” as opposed to the “action.” In fact, excluding the beginning and closing set pieces, the thrills are fairly sparse. Sakamoto and the rest of the production lean a little too heavily into the “fish out of the water” interactions. This is too bad because the ones we do get are well choreographed and shot. This is where Izawa truly shines, given her history in stunt work. The hand-to-hand combat is up close and personal, as Izawa twists and turns with her opponents in an array of punches, grabs and chokeholds. Even when gunplay gets peppered in, the staging keeps everything confined to close quarters. Moritada Iju’s cinematography and Sakamoto’s editing captures everything in medium or wide two shots, cutting at a minimum so that we can see movements flowing from one direction to another. Although the use of CGI blood takes away the ferocity of these scenes, it doesn’t dissipate how well they are constructed.
The lack of action also prevents us from getting more of Mone Akitani’s over the top, crazy performance as Himari. Himari is an up-and-coming assassin looking to make a name for herself. Akitani inhabits the role as an effervescent psychopath. While Chisato and Mahiro are amoral, they still operate under an established criminal code. Himari is restrained by nothing, which makes her all the more unpredictable. She is ruthless, funny, and completely absorbing. Akitani’s performance is off the wall and spontaneous, as though she is creating the character as she goes along. Watch the way she examines an adversary’s gun by doing the one thing you shouldn’t do with any weapon: looking down the barrel. Although the schtick of our protagonists trying and failing to get jobs is funny for awhile, it hinders us from getting more of Himari. Every time she shows up, the tension immediately escalates.
One of the best sequences involves our protagonists calling on a cleanup crew to help take care of a particularly bloody affair. It works because it gives a peek into the bigger world these characters exist in. The way crew leader goes over the mundane details of the job – making it look like someone else was responsible, liability fees, insurance paperwork, etc. The back and forth is hilarious in its banality. Things get better when they let a little frustration out and politely asks our killers to be less messy the next time a hit goes down. The scene acts in the same way as the underground societies of John Wick (2014). They both showcase processes and procedures that only members understand. Murder and its aftermath are no different than getting in line at the DMV for a driver’s license.
Baby Assassins is a film that revels in its absurdity. It takes an outlandish premise and runs with it. The result may not be as good as its individual pieces, but there is no denying that it never tries to be anything else than what it is. This is a strange descent into mayhem from the perspective of Generation Z.
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