An Assassin (Asashin)

Japan (2011) Dir. Gô Ohara

Ryo Hanaki (Ryoma Baba) and Shunichi Misaki (Yûki Kubota) are two skilled assassins, having been trained to kill since they were both very young orphans. However Ryo is the more lenient of the two especially when it comes to taking out witnesses, especially of they are female. On a mission Ryo is about to hit his target when the man falls dead seemingly at the hands of schoolgirl Rio Kasuga (Sayuri Iwata). Ryo flees the scene with Rio and takes her back to the flat he and Misaki share. Ryo is given the instruction to kill the girl to save them and their organisation any further trouble, but Ryo can’t bring himself to do it, putting a price on the heads of both Ryo and Rio.

Having made his name as action director for low budget gore fests such as Death Trance and Onechanbara as well as helming cheap and tacky affairs such as Geisha vs Ninja, and Gothic Lolita Psycho, director Gô Ohara now tries his hand at something a little closer to the mainstream with this bullet ridden opus. It’s a kind of Stockholm Syndrome yarn in reverse with the abductor embracing his feelings for his victim rather than the other way around. It’s unfortunately riddle with all the clichés the convention brings with it but Ohara’s earnestness is at least tangible to the viewer as is the meagre budget.

There is little time wasted showing us how skilled Ryo and Misaki are in the bullet biz, with Ryo’s soft touch approach to the fairer sex when doling out death also made explicit  at the first opportunity. They take their orders from a Mr. Shinozaki (Kohei Otomo) who operates one half of the mysterious Organisation, although he seems to have something of a conscience as Ryo does. The hit which brings Rio into the lives of the two hitmen is on a ruthless businessman (George Takahashi) who buys business then sells them on for profit whilst making the staff redundant. The hit is to take place in a fancy jewellers – yup, in public for all to see – where the victim is to meet his daughter on her birthday. However just as a disguised Ryo is about to pull the trigger the man falls to the floor having been stabbed by Rio, who seems oblivious to her actions. When all hell breaks loose Ryo flees with Rio making her a wanted girl, so Mr. Shinozaki orders Ryo to kill Rio. After hearing Rio’s reasons for wanting to kill Ryo decides to help her escape the country but the Organisation won’t let them off so easily. And Misaki, who has found a love interest of his own in a prostitute (Naoko Watanabe) he saved from a group of lecherous men, is forced to choose sides.

While the story isn’t the most original (some have likened it to Korea’s 2010 blood soaked thriller Man From Nowhere) the set up is serviceable enough for Gô Ohara to step up from his gory roots to something more accessible for a larger audience. The budget may not have broken the bank but Ohara does his best to disguise this fact, aided by the fact that aside from some crimson spilling there is no need for cheap looking special effects to threaten to expose this. The photography and camerawork are solid and while some scenes, such as the climactic fight set in the pouring rain shot in slow motion, benefits from this, it is the sort of unoriginal idea which makes this film look more like a pretender than a ground breaker.

The promotional blurb sells this as a tale of a heartless killer and a schoolgirl murderer but the relationship between Ryo and Rio seems to revolve around him staring woodenly at her while she sobs about her future. There really is no reason why the pair should fall in love, nor is there a valid reason why Misaki would fall for the prostitute but they do, setting up the duo being outlawed from the organisation and fighting for their survival. Despite the pivotal public murder – even with Ryo in disguise – the police are nowhere to be seen which should have added an extra layer of tension since Rio should have been easily recognised by the victim’s bodyguards and his daughter and it was reported on the TV news!

It has to be said that even with his de facto heroic turn Ryo isn’t a likeable lead, which is down to both the script and the performance of Ryoma Baba, who sports the same constipated scowl on his face for the whole film. Yûki Kubota fares a little better as the more Maverick Misaki while Sayuri Iwata tries to bring the emotion to the film but ultimately ends up as eye candy. At least the fight scenes are well choreographed and stylishly shot and there are some moments of genuine heart, such a the flashback of the horrific training the prospective hitmen went through as little kids.

An Assassin is a genre film for genre fans while for director Ohara it is a positive step forward into a wider field of filmmaking. Nothing original or earth shattering here but a keen potential for Ohara to have his low budget gore flicks be a thing of the past. Solid if unspectacular.