Tetsuya Mariko’s oddly titled Destruction Babies isn’t the madcap tale of mass-murdering toddlers you might be apprehensively expecting. Third Window Films have been touting Mariko’s latest as “The most extreme 108 minutes in Japanese Cinema History!”. It’s a deadly assertion considering the reputation Japan has for extremity. Disappointment is the only result of a tagline like that.
Destruction Babies doesn’t cram its runtime with graphic sadism, in fact there is almost no move on Mariko’s part to exploit the nastiness of the constant assault. He allows the idea speak for itself. It is after all, a film about an aimless young man, Taira played by Yuya Yagira, fighting his way across town, and it’s shown in a casual handheld way. There’s no gore, no fancy editing, and no over-directing to highlight the brutality. Instead, Mariko offers a surprisingly subtle portrait of lost youth. In this way, Destruction Babies shares subject Miike’s Ley Lines, which looks at placelessness, nationalism, and youth culture at the end of the 90’s. Destruction Babies does a similar thing for Japanese millennials caught between the historic traditions of a patriarchal society and the fame-hungry world of contemporary culture.
Mobile phones and cameras factor heavily into the story and help build on Mariko’s dark portrait of social media and human nature. Percussion-heavy beats and cool pop tunes mix well with the never-ending hand-to-hand combat, but never make proceedings feel “cool”. There’s something innately soulless about this film, Mariko doesn’t want to glorify violence so he does well not to make it look cool. The events may well be shocking, but they are shared with the matter-of-fact brutality Taira throws punches with. The eventual introduction of violent loner Yuya Kitahara (Masaki Suda) provides an interesting comparison, since Kitahara is motivated almost solely by sexual frustration, hatred towards women, and the rampant exposure of Taira’s televised rampage. He just falls into Taira’s orbit and the two begin a destructive venture without ever really being friends or companions.
Destruction Babies belongs to a family of films all cynical at the world left for the next generation. Like A Clockwork Orange or even Battle Royale, Mariko’s frustration has fueled a bombastic but aimless confrontation. Its not until the very end that you get a glimpse at the possible origins of bla Taira’s rampage, and even then it’s more of a thematic full stop than any kind of distinct reasoning. Violence begets violence, and a culture whose traditions are steeped in violence, shouldn’t be surprised if it’s people get violent.
Dir. Tetsuya Mariko
Stars: Yuya Yagira, Masaki Suda, Nana Komatsu