BABY ASSASSINS is a 2021 Japanese film that I really enjoyed on Hi-Yah! a while ago and it has a sequel coming out soon (it already played at Fantastic Fest), so I figured I better get off my ass and finish writing the review. This is a movie that has some really well-executed fighting and bloody violence, but it’s really not focused on action. It’s mostly a very dry comedy about the lives of two freshly-graduated-from-high-school roommates, Mahiro (Saori Izawa, stunt double in the last two RUROUNI KENSHINs and SNAKE EYES) and Chisato (Akari Takaishi, MY HAPPY MARRIAGE), whose “main job is killing.”
The movie opens in the back room of a convenience store, where Mahiro is badly interviewing for a job, which turns out to be an undercover mission to kill the manager. She shoots him and fights the rest of the staff on her way out, until Chisato shows up to help finish them off and joke about how annoying the manager was. Just a couple of friends getting through life together.
All this killing turns out to have been a daydream in the middle of the interview. She’s not undercover, she’s really trying to get the job, which confused me at first. Are they or are they not (baby) assassins? They are. But also they need to get side gigs. Upon graduation the organization told them they had to learn to be members of society by moving in together, getting part time jobs, and paying the bills.
Mahiro does not kill the manager. But when he startles her she puts him in an armlock, so she doesn’t get the job either. For some reason.
She’s a really funny and relatable character, perpetually tired and downbeat, bleached bangs hanging in her eyes, often wearing a baggie hoodie and pajama pants, mumbling dejectedly to herself, very low energy… until she has to fight, and then suddenly she’s a livewire. I mean, she can stab up a storm when she needs to, but mostly she stays on the futon eating noodles, looking at her phone, playing Nintendo Switch, talking about anime.
Chisato is kind of the opposite – loud, high-pitched, excitable, often with a big smile. In her first non-daydream appearance she squeals in gratitude for the takeout Mahiro brought her, then it’s revealed she has a guy tied to a chair with duct tape on his mouth and blood dripping down his forehead. Mahiro has to dispose of the body so Chisato can cover a shift at a small restaurant, but that too ends in fantasized (?) violence.
Like so many movie assassins they do it for the money, but for them it’s not a huge amount. They live in a tiny studio apartment with a fight dummy in the kitchen, eating dinner on the coffee table. They do have a washing machine, but they broke it by accidentally running a gun clip through it. They argue about spicy foods and Chisato regrets that she spent 20,000 yen on a machine gun but won’t have a job where she gets to use it for a while.
Mahiro and Chisato both get hired at a gimmicky establishment I think called Moe Moe Kyun, where they wear cat ears and stay in character as subservient alien anime girls while serving food. Chisato has a great time and Mahiro can’t handle it. “I can’t get used to that vibe,” she says to herself, so she quits right away and they start to resent each others’ differences.
The job also brings Chisato into conflict with a psychotic Yakuza (Yasukaze Motomiya) and his bickering, competitive son Kazuki (Satoshi Uekiya, HiGH&LoW: THE WORST) and daughter Himari (Akitani Mone). Himari is as bubbly as Chisato and seems to be her dad’s favorite. He teaches her how to shoot (using a living person as the target), talks about bringing her to Disney Sea, lectures Kazuki about calling her a whore. “Yakuza also needs to create a comfortable working environment for women. Haven’t you seen OCEAN’S 8?”
“No, I haven’t.”
Dad decides that “pimping and drugs are outdated” and they should get involved in a “female-centric business,” so they go get food at Moe Moe Kyun to check it out. Their hostess calls them “master,” makes them help her cast a spell on their syrup, etc. Kazuki is very confused, but they agree it’s “a fun place” until Dad feels insulted by her writing with ketchup on his omelette and lines up the staff at gunpoint. It’s fun to see Chisato rolling her eyes and bored while the rest of the staff are crying in terror. But after doing what she does she gets very sad because now she’s lost this job that she really liked. She calls the guy who does the cleanup, who she has to pay for out of pocket since it wasn’t work related, and he gets passive aggressive with her about how she always shoots them in the head even though he always tells her the heart would be easier for him.
The way we really know that Himari is like Chisato is that she identifies the smell of her Dolce & Gabana perfume on the bodies. She summons her for a dual and our titular duo ride one bike over to a warehouse to battle her and her Yakuza henchmen in a great action finale that involves grappling, sliding, rolling, tons of close up gunfire, and a memorable opponent (Masanori Mimoto, YAKUZA APOCALYPSE) who comes out of nowhere for an intense one-on-one with Himari (“She should’ve told me about this crazy strong guy,” she mumbles to herself).
BABY ASSASSINS is written and directed by Yugo Sakamoto (A JANITOR, GREEN BULLET). I’m not familiar with his other work, but I’ve seen a couple by the same action director, Kensuke Sonomura (MANHUNT, HYDRA, BAD CITY), and I love his style. Although this is much more humorous it actually reminds me of HYDRA in that it has these really distinct and well executed scenes of violence, but you could be (and many have been) disappointed if you went in just looking for that. This one is mainly just a big fight at the beginning and the end. You need to enjoy just hanging out with these characters to appreciate it and maybe you “can’t get used to that vibe.”
I did though, and I found it charming. As old as I am I can remember and still somewhat relate to feeling that you’re incapable of passing as a grown up, or an employee, or a normal person. More than that, Izawa and Takaishi are just so great in the roles, and are really funny both separately and as a pair, and their friendship is sweet. I was really surprised and impressed because I assumed they both had to be actors with some training and doubling to do the action scenes, but it turns out Izawa is primarily a stunt person. Most recently she was the double for Rina Sawayama in JOHN WICK CHAPTER 4. We all value the Keanus who learn how to do action well, but it’s also special when there’s an action person this good at acting.
I just want to see these two again, so bring on BABY ASSASSINS 2 BABIES. (That’s really the title. I’m not sure if there’s a colon missing in there or it’s a 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS type thing or what.) I’ll watch BABY ASSASSINS HIGH SCHOOL REUNION, BABY ASSASSINS GO TO WASHINGTON, BABY ASSASSINS MEET FRANKENSTEIN, A BABY ASSASSINS CHRISTMAS CAROL, whatever. Keep ’em coming.