By Roxy Simons.
In a similar fashion to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, it’s the violence that does most of the talking in Tetsuya Mariko’s Destruction Babies. With no clearly defined narrative, the film goes from one fight to the next, with each proving to be more aggressive than the last. It gives the film a raw and gritty undertone, one that presents a nihilistic depiction of Japanese youth and, paired well with realistic sound design that makes each punch seem palpable.
Leading man Taira Ashira has nothing on his mind but creating chaos. Living alone with his younger brother, he decides to leave his small town shortly before the coming-of-age festival. The disgruntled teen wanders aimlessly around Matsuyama, eagerly looking for his next fight. After a streak of punch-ups he inspires high-school kid Yuya Kitahara to join in in the disorder. Taira doesn’t acknowledge or dissuade the kid from joining the fray, in fact he barely ever speaks, and as the misadventure evolves from picking fights with people to something even more sinister.
All he is interested in is when he can throw the next punch, but his undesired protégé Kitahara is the opposite. He’s sloppy and desperate for attention, beating up all those in his path, regardless of age or gender, and filming every encounter to post online.
However, what works well for the film also manages to decrease its overall impact. As there isn’t a clear motive, it’s hard to understand why Taira feels the need to fight every living person he comes across and this means that it’s difficult to relate to, or even invest in, his story. Even if he doesn’t speak, actor Yuya Yagira is able to create a sinister atmosphere with just a hint of a smile or crazed look at his next victim. He exudes anarchy, and his mysterious nature makes him seem extremely threatening — especially when no one is able to control him.
Masaki Suda is also impressive in the role of Kitahara. Having made his name through the superhero franchise Kamen Rider, Suda has proven that he is a versatile actor, but in Destruction Babies that he is really able to go out of his comfort zone. His character’s need for approval from his ultra-violent idol means that he is desperate to catch up with him, and while it is sometimes hard to watch Suda as his character descends into madness, he does give a striking performance.
Despite its lack of a coherent narrative, Mariko’s film is an explosive and merciless drama. Barely a moment goes by when its lead characters haven’t got their fists in the air, and it ensures that the film is as unrelenting as they are. The cast give commendable performances, but it is Yuya Yagira and Masaki Suda that stand out the most as the uncontrollable leads. For some people it’s enough just to watch the world burn, and for them this is certainly the case.