Release Date(s)2021 (August 16, 2022)
Studio(s)Well Go USA Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D-
Baby Assassins (aka Beibî warukyûre) was one of four different feature films from Japanese writer/director Yugo Sakamoto that were all released in 2021, which is an impressive achievement by any measurement. To be fair, three out of the four do take place in the same general milieu, and one of them is even a pseudo-documentary spinoff of Baby Assassins. They’re also brief, with none of them clocking in at much over 90 minutes, and it’s pretty clear that Sakamoto shoots them efficiently. Of course, his budgets have all been very limited, so it’s a case where necessity is the mother of productivity. That’s still a Jess Franco level of prolificacy, so it will be interesting to see if Sakamoto can sustain it.
Baby Assassins is the product of the post-John Wick cinematic environment, featuring assassins as the lead characters, and following their misadventures while trying to make their way through the civilian world. Mahiro (Saori Izawa) and Chisato (Akari Takaishi) are two teenagers who happen to be relatively inexperienced assassins. Upon graduation, the syndicate decides that they need to live together while doing part-time jobs to provide cover for their main profession. That’s easier said than done, since Mahiro and Chisato couldn’t be more different, and neither of them are comfortable fitting into a conventional workplace. Yet a chance encounter with a Yakuza (Masanori Mimoto) and his rowdy daughter (Nagiko Tsuji) sets them down a path where they’ll be forced to work together as a team in order to survive.
As that description should make clear, Baby Assassins grafts The Odd Couple into its John Wick framework. It’s an action movie where the action is secondary. There are still some impressive fight scenes in the film, choreographed by Hydra director Kensuke Sonomura, but they still take a back seat to the awkward relationship between Mahiro and Chisato. Mahiro is the Oscar Madison of the duo, a socially awkward, unmotivated slacker. Chisato is the Felix Unger, whose more bubbly, outgoing nature is a thinly-veiled facade for her dangerously high-strung personality. They end up bickering their way through assassinations just as much as they do while trying to coexist in their apartment. The one thing that they share in common is that neither one of them is capable of dealing with the rigors of holding down a regular job. Yet it’s really a matter of learning each other’s strengths, and battling the Yakuza provides just the opportunity that they needed to do that.
When Sonomura’s action scenes do arrive, they’re fun if not particularly novel, and despite having a fair amount of cutting, they’re still clear and comprehensible. Izawa really shines during those moments, and she could have a genuine career as an action star. Like Jackie Chan, she excels at expressing the personality of her characters through the action. Mahiro may be a cold-blooded assassin, but she’s still a slacker who hates being inconvenienced by having to fight, and that dichotomy comes through well in Izawa’s performance. The only real problem with the action is the limited budget, as Sakamoto was forced to rely on some unconvincing digital blood sprays and muzzle flashes to cover the lack of practical effects on set. Still, Baby Assassins does manage to transcend its limitations and become an amusing if somewhat inconsequential action-comedy contribution to the assassin subgenre.
Cinematographer Moritada Iju captured Baby Assassins digitally, but there’s no information available regarding the cameras, resolutions, or Digital Intermediate that was involved. The cinematography is generally crisp and clear, without much in the way of artifacts like banding or noise. That’s true of the many low-light scenes as well, although the flip side is that the contrast range in those sequences tends to be a bit flat, with elevated black levels and crushed shadow detail. Daylight sequences offer stronger contrast and better blacks. The color balance is good, though some of those low-light situations do tend towards a green push. It’s a solid if imperfect digital presentation, though to be fair, the deficiencies are likely inherent to the original production.
Audio is offered in Japanese 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. The 2.0 track is surround encoded, but the discrete track is still preferable. Either way, the bulk of the mix is focused on the front channels, with the surrounds being primarily confined to light ambience. There’s just an occasional directionalized effect, like when a knife is kicked away and it flies into the back corner of the room. Otherwise, it’s the music that provides the bulk of the sonic energy, making this an extremely propulsive track, if not necessarily the most immersive.
Well Go USA Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of Baby Assassins offers a slipcover with artwork that matches the insert, but the only extras are four different HD trailers. Three of them are forced up front when starting the disc, but they can still be selected via the menu as well:
- Baby Assassins Trailer (2:10)
- Ip Man: The Awakening Trailer (1:34)
- Spiritwalker Trailer (1:47)
- Seobok: Project Clone Trailer (1:37)
Baby Assassins isn’t the kind of film that was ever going to receive the full-blown special edition treatment, but a few behind-the-scenes featurettes still would have been appreciated. There are some outtakes over the closing credits, and those do show that everyone seems to have had a good time on the set. It would have been nice to see a bit more of that. Regardless, a film stands or falls on its own merits, and Baby Assassins is enjoyable enough to make it worth picking up on Blu-ray with or without any real extras.
- Stephen Bjork