By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
A warning to anyone who is contemplating seeing Destruction Babies. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before witnessing what is unquestionably one of the most confronting films released in recent years.
The punishing story is first introduced to us from a distance, as Kazuo Kondo (DenDen), the owner of a boat repair business, sees one of his employees being set upon by a gang on the other side of the small seaside port they work at. By the time Kondo reaches Taira, the assault is almost over, but instead of thanking his boss, the battered youth immediately leaves the scene.
It isn’t long before we see the state of mind Taira is in, as he savagely ambushes anyone who crosses his path, enthusiastically wanting to fight whoever reacts to his severe provocations. This path of violent encounters leads Taira into the city area, where he meets Yuya (Masaki Suda), a high school student whose friends Taira attacks. Deciding to accompany this increasingly bloodied loose cannon, Yuya turns from bemused observer to excited participant, with modern technology at his fingertips to gleefully record and upload every sickening event.
While all this mayhem is occurring, Taira’s younger brother Shota (Nijiro Murakami) is making his way into the city to search for his absent sibling, accompanied by his skateboarding friends, including the extroverted Kenji (Takumi Kitamura). Added to the mix is night club worker Nana (Nana Komatsu), whose presence will play a major part in how all this snowballing chaos, will end.
During its early stages, some audiences may misunderstand the path Destruction Babies is taking. The continual stream of graphic fist fights might draw comparisons to David Fincher’s 1999 classic Fight Club, but as events unfold, its grim agenda comes into focus. Taira’s acts of violence, no matter how random they appear to be, are inflicted upon other males, and it is unsettling how watching men resorting to mindless fisticuffs is depicted as the norm. Boys will be boys, as the saying goes.
However, once Taira teams up with student Yuya, whose still-evolving view of the world is clearly influenced by the violence occurring around him, a disturbing change takes place, and leads to what is easily the film’s most horrific sequence. Showing the truly corruptive, non-discriminatory nature of violence, this is when the film-maker’s message is made crystal clear.
Writer/director Tetsuya Mariko (who helmed the similarly angry Yellow Kid), expresses genuine worry about numerous aspects of contemporary society, how particular archaic beliefs are leading civilisation to oblivion, and the way in which these attitudes are being passed from one generation to the next. Mariko’s viewpoint is deliberately dark and troublesome, portraying mankind’s continual attraction to violent resolution as a vicious cycle, like an insatiable beast that grows stronger with each brutal assault.
Performances are absolutely extraordinary, adding immeasurably to the thought-provoking horrors we are witnessing on screen. Yagira, who became the youngest person ever to win Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, for his heartbreaking turn in Hirokazu Kore’eda’s brilliant Nobody Knows (2004), is almost unrecognisable in what is literally a bruising role. Taira is a seething mass of uninhibited, self-destructive anger, and Yagira fills him with a blind, anonymous hatred that is completely terrifying. But as the pieces are put in place, one can see why Taira embraces such abhorrent behaviour.
Suda is equally convincing as Yuya. This talented performer garnered critical acclaim and audience attention after his divergent work in Daily Lives of High School Boys and The Light Shines Only There in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and has quickly become one of the most sought-after young actors in Japan. In 2016 alone, Suda has delivered standout performances in the delightful comedy Seto And Utsumi, the fascinating drama Pink And Gray, the colourful Assassination Classroom: The Graduation, and the big budget fantasy thriller Death Note: Light Up The New World. Here he is unpredictable, frightening, and chillingly believable.
Komatsu makes the most of a part that is far from secondary, and allows her to powerfully display some of the same trademarks she demonstrated in the equally nihilistic The World of Kanako. It is a difficult role, but she pulls it off with conviction. The rest of the cast, including Murakami, Kitamura, and DenDen, are all exemplary.
Those merely wanting exploitative action and thrills will find Destruction Babies repetitive and dull. The ending will also be perceived as both muted and anti-climactic. However, for moviegoers who do see what Mariko’s provocative material is saying, they will be rewarded with a ferociously challenging experience, one that will stay with you long after the end credits have finished.