How’s that for an attention-getting title? “Baby Assassins” sounds wacky, and to be honest it kinda is. But it’s the seeded eccentricities that makes this gleefully violent and proudly silly Japanese action-comedy click. Much like its title, the very premise of the film borders on absurdity. But this is a very self-aware movie and there’s never a sense it’s taking itself too seriously. In fact, there’s a lightheartedness ingrained both in the story and the storytelling that would normally clash with a tale about two deadly contract killers.
But hats off to writer and director Yugo Sakamoto who makes this teen Odd Couple genre mashup far more entertaining than it might sound. There are several pieces that factor into the film’s success: the two fabulous lead performances and their perky chemistry, the wily script, the genuinely funny laughs, and the bursts of exciting (and sometimes brutal) action. It all gels in this breezy off-beat jaunt that plays much differently than the bulk of hitman/assassin movies we get these days.
Chisato (Akari Takaishi) and Mahiro (Saori Izawa) are high-schoolers who are all prepped to graduate. They’re also employed and they happen to be really good at their “main job”. As the title gives away, the two are highly trained assassins who work for a tightly managed secret outfit ran by a mystery man named Mr. Tasaka. As part of company policy, once out of school the two are required to move in together and get part-time jobs. It’s all to provide cover for their true vocation.
And this is where the humor really kicks in. Neither Chisato or Mahiro are good at keeping jobs, and much of the fun is watching them try and fail miserably to fit into the everyday work force. It’s not for lack of effort. They are just awkwardly out of their element and easily frustrated. It leads to several fun scenes featuring botched interviews, some rather violent daydreaming on the job, and some amusing clashes with bosses.
Then there is their relationship. Your enjoyment of “Baby Assassins” may hinge on how much you like hanging out with the two lead characters considering their quirky friendship is the centerpiece of the film. A few hiccups aside, when it comes to killing, Chisato and Mahiro work together like a (fairly) well-oiled machine. But when it comes to personality, they couldn’t be more different. Chisato is the jaunty gregarious type who loves talking almost as much as her machine gun. Mahiro is detached and socially awkward; a soft-spoken sociopath who would rather mutter to herself that speak to anyone else. Polar opposites but a sparkling pair in large part thanks to the effortlessly organic chemistry between Takaishi and Izawa.
And of course there’s the action which isn’t as plentiful as you might think, but it comes in furious (and exhilarating) bursts. They’re wonderfully arranged by veteran fight choreographer Kensuke Sonomura and culminate in a rousing climax after the girls get sideways with a Yakuza boss (Yasukaze Motomiya) and his two psychotic kids (Akitani Mone and Satoshi Uekiya). While both leads are incredibly proficient in the action scenes, it’s Izawa whose stuntwoman background comes out in a jaw-dropping and brilliantly shot one-on-one fight sequence near the end.
So as you can tell, “Baby Assassins” has plenty of pieces that could easily be at odds with each other. But Sakamoto’s savvy direction and whip-smart script pulls everything together in a way that obliterated my expectations. While it may be a bit rough around the edges and its budget restraints occasionally show, the movie is still bursting with personality and energy. Those who are more action-minded may be taken back by the playful tone and casual pacing. But fear not, the final 15 minutes doles out just the kind of satisfying action-fueled payoff we’ve been anticipating.