When Third Window Films announced Tetsuya Mariko's Disutorakushon Beibizu [Destruction Babies], it came with an ominous warning. The poster reads "The most extreme 108 minutes in Japanese cinema history", a rather audacious claim. Make of that what you will, the point is that Mariko's newborn is a worthy addition to Japan's infamous niche of nihilistic cinema and serves a dark, often impenetrable blow to the gut. You better come prepared when watching this one.
Japan has a fruitful history of young directors shaking the world with a cold slice of nihilism. Almost 20 years ago Toshiaki Toyoda burst onto the scene with Poruno Suta, a violent and unrelenting drama. Some 10 years ago Ryo Nakashima repeated that very feat with Oretachi no Sekai. The difference with Destruction Babies is that this isn't Mariko's first feature, but that's little more than a technicality compared to the things these films share amongst each other.
Central to the story is a young boy flung out of control, but if you're hoping to get some answers you're not going to find them here. Destruction Babies is a film that shows, not so much explains. That could be a tough pill to swallow, as you won't get much context for his violent behavior and seeing someone beaten to a pulp for the 10th time can be kind of numbing (ask anyone who has seen Takashi Miike's Izo), but that's half the appeal of a film like this.
Taira and Shota are two abandoned brothers, shacking up above a small boat repair show. When Taira finally turns 18, he snaps and goes on a violent rampage. Disappearing overnight, he wanders the streets and picks fights with whoever he runs into. No guns, no knives, just his bare fists and an unstoppable drive. But not everyone is appalled by his actions, some people are smitten by his fearless attitude. Yuya is such a kid and after following Taira around for a while, he decides they should join forces and raise hell together.
Visually Destruction Babies is a solid film, though it lacks stand-out moments. The camera work meets expectations, with some nice overview shots throughout and more up-close material during the fights, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. It's probably a tad more restrained than you might expect from a film like this, but I assume that's Mariko's experience taking over. It's not quite the maverick style of film making typical for younger directors, but it's more than visceral enough to get the job done.
The music is on par with the visuals, though pushing the envelope just a little harder. The soundtrack consists mostly of Japanese rock songs, but intertwined with jazz-like influences, going for atypical, nervous rhythms that further underline the unease of the subject matter. It's a pretty good soundtrack, nothing I'd listen to outside of the film, but it does give Destruction Babies some extra grit and it furthers cements the uncomfortable atmosphere that drives the experience.
As for the actors, they do a pretty spectacular job. Yuya Yagira (Dare mo Shiranai) takes on the role of Taira and almost effortlessly embodies one of the most enigmatic and charismatic characters I've come across in recent memory. Taira is almost impossible to read, but his sly grin, misplaced sense of amusement and disturbingly haphazard attitude make for a truly interesting character. Masaki Suda and Nana Komatsu are equally charismatic, though their motivations are at least somewhat more understandable. It's a stellar cast, topped off by a small but welcome Denden cameo.
The very first scene shows Taira snapping, the very last scene shows nothing much has changed in between. If you're looking for a character that evolves or grows you're not going to find it in Taira. He does influence the people around him, although indirectly. He never coerces people into helping him, never reaches out to them. They just flock to him in a desperate attempt to deal with their own problems. It's a unique setup that probably goes against several formal scriptwriting rules, but it wouldn't be the first time that makes for great cinema.
Destruction Babies is a great film. It walks a fine line between accomplished cinema and maverick nihilism and succeeds with deceptive ease. It may not be the most extreme Japanese film you've ever come across (though it may be the most extreme 108-minute one, if you want to be overly semantic about it), but it packs a veritable punch and leaves you gasping for air. It's clearly not for everyone, the main character might be a bit too mysterious and the constant physical onslaught doesn't make for an easy watch, but I for one am hoping to see more of Mariko's work in the near future.