Destruction Babies (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: Third Window Films) Running Time: 108 minutes approx.
“The most extreme 108 minutes in Japanese cinema history!” proclaims the legend on the cover of Third Window’s latest release. One can almost see Takashi Miike, Shinya Tsukamoto, Sion Sono and possibly Yoshihiro Nishimura smirking to themselves, saying “Challenge accepted!”
At the risk of sounding petty Destruction Babies isn’t actually wall-to-wall unbridled anarchy, but is a brutal, uncompromising and atonal disquisition on violence in our daily lives that hardly qualifies as a date movie.
Opening with a shot of a quite, seaport harbour, set to the contrasting strains of a discordant rock guitar, Shota Ashihara (Nijiro Murakami) is returning home from school, spying his older brother Taira (Yuya Yagira) across the watery divide. Taira shouts out that he is leaving town prior to being jumped by a gang of youths from behind, giving him a good beating before running away.
The next time we see Taira, he is walking through downtown Matsuyama picking a fight with a complete stranger for the fun of it. He is beaten but he returns for more and eventually prevails. This is Taira’s life now, and apparently, how he gets his kicks which is the most important thing to him.
One early encounter is with obnoxious teen Yuya Kitahara (Masaki Suda), a vain spindly coward who hides behind his friends, impressed with Taira’s prowess and disregard for the rules. Feeling empowered, Yuya teams up with Taira to cut a swathe of violence through Matsuyama, filming the attacks and posting online, creating a stir.
Immediately, two questions pop into our minds – what is the cause of all of this and where is it heading? Director Tetsuya Mariko openly admits he wanted to make a film in which the violence is not justified or explained, it is just there and he has certainly done that. Yet, the message Mariko imparts is that violence is all around us – always has been and always will be, and Taira is his vessel in achieving that.
Usually there is a glimmer of hope that the path to redemption is somewhere in the future of the central characters – not so here. In Taira and Yuya, there have rarely been two more dislikeable and contemptuous leads in a film, for whom there is no empathy to be engendered from the audience. A begrudging admiration for Taira’s indomitable spirit and stamina in never giving up perhaps, but beyond that, they are irredeemable.
Not that there is a contest to determine who is the most reprehensible but Yuya’s mandate of only picking on women and those weaker than him (Taira never touches women) does put him a step ahead in the abominable stakes. Yuya truly goes off the rails, turning into a screaming sociopath with no regard for anyone, as if the whole world is suddenly his own personal canvas to stain with blood.
Meanwhile Shota is trying to find his brother but ends up in a hostess bar with his friends, being served by, among others, self-absorbed kleptomaniac Nana (Nana Komatsu). The bar happens to be run by former victims of Taira, and after one lad, Kenji (Takumi Kitamura), goes too far with teasing Shota, they are thrown out for fighting.
Oh the irony, especially as mild mannered Shota is ashamed of his brother’s increasingly infamous antics but, well, Kenji was asking for it. Remember, violence is all around us. Later that night after blaming another girl for the youngsters being in the club, Nana just happens to be in a car that is hijacked by – you guessed it – Yuya and Taira.
It is at this point that we are supposed to feel for Nana, bound, beaten and locked in the boot – and we do, but Mariko has a game plan to stick to. Nana isn’t as well defined as the other characters, with very little about her revealed, beyond her haughty attitude and shoplifting compulsion but her addition to the Yuya and Taira dynamic serves as a barometer for Yuya’s increasing derangement and Taira’s nonchalance.
While the violence is unashamedly unpleasant and senseless, for this writer, the sexual approaches by Yuya on Nana are decidedly lurid and equally uncomfortable to watch. There is no nudity or anything explicit shown, just a helplessly bound Nana being awkwardly molested by Yuya in a scene of curious innocence yet obscenely invasive.
Some may be surprised by the lack of sexual content in such a proudly “extreme” film but prurience isn’t really needed as it would simply dilute the impact of the wanton violence which, it can be argued, the repetition of bloody beatings does by itself. Mariko shows little interest in this, using women as a totem of male weakness, which Yuya and Taira exploit.
Many of the fights are captured in a single take and shot from a safe distance, putting the audience in the same observant spot as onlookers in the film. With verisimilitude key to the shock factor, this isn’t your usual cinematic staged scrap – the fighters tire, tussles turns into clumsy grapples and punches miss more than they hit; sometimes it is over in matter of seconds but it is all very frighteningly real.
Putting aside the fact Yuya Yagira looks a decade older than 18, his Terminator-esque portrayal of Taira is oddly magnetic for such a repellent character, in contrast to Masaki Suda’s energetically manic Yuya, whom we want to see Taira beat up. Nana Komatsu initially seems to be in a throwaway role for such a young talent, until circumstances eventually reveal otherwise.
Through a dispassionate lens and similarly restrained direction, Mariko appears to be saying a lot without saying anything. The conclusion offers an insight to what drives Taira’s antisocial actions but not a conclusive explanation, which we are left to decipher ourselves. Anti-climactic or deliberately provocative? You decide.
Destruction Babies is a film that indulges Japan’s nihilistic tendencies for better or for worse, but rather than ask for your attention it demands it. Or else!
Japanese DTS-HD 2.0
Rating – *** ½
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