Fantastic Fest 2021: BABY ASSASSINS: Hard Hitting Action, One Note Comedy

An exercise in contradictory tones

Disaffected teenage girls Chisato (Akari Takaishi) and Mahiro (Saori Izawa) are roommates fresh out of high school navigating the frustrations of part time job interviews, demeaning service industry gigs, and the challenges that arise from being… secretly highly trained assassins? Yes, writer/director Yugo Sakamoto’s action comedy Baby Assassins is an exercise in contrasts, introducing us to the dour and depressed Mahiro and the chipper and boisterous Chisato as they learn to “adult” even as they take assignments from their shadowy employers. Hijinks ensue such as Chisato sleeping through her alarm so she’s running around the apartment grabbing a jacket, her keys, and her firearm so she won’t be late to her assassination appointment. The tone of this kind of comedy is pretty consistent throughout and it seems our actresses and Sakamoto have a pretty good feel for who these characters are. Baby Assassins builds a pretty distinct world.

It’s just that the comedy never quite rose beyond “amusing”, and the one note scenario seems to drag on for quite a while, even for a 95 minute feature film. As I wasn’t quite vibing with the film, I was getting close to dismissing it. I’m glad I pushed through, however, because Baby Assassins does build to a pretty grand finale, and does some minimal character exploration and growth.

Regarding that grand finale: Let’s talk about a man named Kensuke Sonomura. With over 75 credits to his name on IMDb as a stunt professional (a few of my personal highlights being action choreographer on Hydra and John Woo’s Manhunt), Sonomura is among the very best of the best when it comes to cinematic action. The 2021 film Hydra is so phenomenal, and so distinct, in fact, that I recognized the signature style found in that film here in Baby Assassins. I had to do a little internet digging but confirmed that indeed, Sonomura is the action director here… and it shows. While I’d argue that the recipe in Baby Assassins is just slightly off in favor of comedy over action, Mahiro’s absolutely stellar fight sequences will no doubt be among the very best of 2021/2022 (whenever this title releases in the United States). With a steady camera capturing all the gritty details, and a grappling style that’s powerfully cinematic, Sonomura’s action choreography matched with Saori Izawa and Akari Takaishi’s screen presences is what you’re paying for when you buy a ticket to Baby Assassins.

There’s definite comedic value in watching a couple of dramatic teen girls navigate the challenges of the roommate life while casually dispatching of rogue yakuza and such. But while there’s some thematic stuff going on, such as hinting at what kind of psychological damage is being done to these kids, and getting at the meaning of friendship between these two very different teen killers… even at 95 minutes Baby Assassins just barely justifies its length. But when toughing it out you’ll find just enough spark to the central relationship and a virtuoso action sequence or two to leave your jaw agape.

And I’m Out.

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